My 13 year old daughter changed schools this month. For any teen, joining a new school part way through the school year is a challenge. But for my daughter it has been especially hard, as she is autistic and is managing in mainstream school. She finds new places scary, and is particularly affected by crowds and loud noises. She has also had a spectacular cold and her immune system has been at an all time low. So the last few weeks have been a special kind of hell for her, and thus for the rest of the family. Every day, she has come home grey with exhaustion, huge circles under her eyes, barely able to speak, and has climbed into our bed with her iPad to watch something for very little children, to soothe herself.
I’m setting the scene for just how incredibly hard it has been for her, because I want to tell you about what happened on her very first day at the new school. The specialist support she needs behind the scenes — like many girls who are autistic, she focuses huge amounts of energy to hide her autism, and won’t accept the help she needs if it is visible to others — was unexpectedly not in place, as the person who was to be her support was suddenly away from school due to a bereavement. So she is in mainstream school, first day, no support, utterly terrified.
And she walks with a group of kids past some much older, bigger, white boys verbally and physically racially abusing a boy of colour. My daughter is white. The school, like the area we live in, has very few pupils of any other background.
The group she is with walks on. My daughter, who is small for her age, is too scared of the bigger boys, so waits out of sight until they leave. Then she goes up to the bullied boy to ask if he is OK. She can see he isn’t, so she sits with him and asks him about what happened. He tells her the names they call him, the things they say, how it makes him feel. He says everyone hates him. My daughter tells him she does not, and that he seems very nice.
Remember this is all happening on my daughter’s very first day. A day on which we saw, after school, the biggest meltdown we have ever seen her have, from the shock and stress of the new school.
But this isn’t the part of the story that makes me so amazed by the ways in which the neurodiverse mind works.
That evening, after the meltdown had passed, and we were curled up in my bed together, she told me about the above incident.
“I am SO proud of you for stopping to see if that boy was OK,” I said, “so proud.”
To my surprise, my lovely, exhausted but now relaxed daughter became really angry with me.
“You SHOULDN’T be proud of me, Mommy,” she shouted. “It should be NORMAL to stop and see if someone is OK when that happens! I’m so angry at the people I was with. They WALKED ON and did nothing! They ignored it!”
She is right. It should be normal to stop and see if someone is OK.
This is why we need more neurodiversity. More of this.
I’m still really proud of her. #AutismInGirls