What I Learned From Being a Misunderstood, Neurodiverse Child
Thinking around my own secondary school experience has brought up reflections of sadness, happiness and also relief.
I am diagnosed ADHD, dyslexic with co-occurring dyspraxia. I have considerable sensory processing difficulties and I am most likely autistic, although I haven’t received this diagnosis formally as of yet. Like many women of my age, I didn’t receive these diagnoses at school. Instead I received them as I entered university education as a fully grown woman with a family of my own.
Through trying to cope with the stress and demands of adult life along with parenting my three children, two of whom are autistic, I have had the opportunity to learn more about myself.
As a child I had no awareness of my difference. I didn’t play with toys in the same way as my friends did, but rather ran snails up my legs, ate food with my hands because it felt good and wanted to play out on my bike as much as I could. I remember trying to play with Barbie dolls and really not understanding why you would want to move dolls around to pretend to do things. I did on the other hand like organizing my Sylvanian families in size order and making sure all the tiny pots and pans were organized in the their caravan playhouse. I liked the Sylvanian families because they were soft and felt nice to stroke.
As I progressed into my teen years I was released from the need to try to play, and many different social demands started to impact my day. I quickly learned not to trust people as they would say one thing and do another. I choose to keep my friendship circle small, I said “hello” to everyone but let very few people into my direct world. I instead collected “my people.” The other kids who weren’t like the rest — the geeks, the misfits and to me the most interesting. These were the people with whom I belonged.
My disposition at school was loud; I had a voice and I would use it all day long. I didn’t understand why I had to do as I was told and I outright ignored rules, negotiated work and quickly learned to talk myself and others out of trouble. I played it as charming and as charismatic as I could, which would work until I had a change of teacher or supply.
My fondest memories of school were me “going turbo” — breaking away from the class, hiding in the toilet. Being told to sit in the corridor for talking again, making up stories in my head and learning to spell signs backwards. I loved the break from the norm, and in a strange way these corridors saved my ability to cope on many occasion. The teachers didn’t understand sensory integration back then, and my behavior was always directly blamed on my personality rather than a diagnosis. I would have appreciated more support and understanding, but it wasn’t all bad. The corridor functioned to give me rest, allowed me to calm myself and gave me the break I needed from the busy classroom environment.
When reflecting on my experience, I feel sorry for the children who are like me and must deal with the way the educational system is now. Today’s expectations of children both academically and behaviorally surpass what was placed on me. I would like to say that with more understanding of neurodiversity comes more support, but unfortunately based on my experience with my own children, this isn’t the case.
I hope for my grandchildren and beyond that their difference in thinking will be accommodated and celebrated. There are many different types of people in this world who need different things to thrive, and I hope that together a future that celebrates difference emerges. But for now I send my love to those children in corridors, and send you a message.
I want you to know that within those corridors, your creativity and imagination will be sparked if you allow it. Throughout the sanctions and the blame, remember that your difference will bring you true gifts others may not experience. And through it all, remember that the people who are born to stand out always will. This will be your life long superpower; harness it with positivity as much as you can, and through your hard work and determination you will reach all of your dreams.
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