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What It Was Like to Grow Up Feeling Different as an Autistic Child

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My name’s Tilly Robinson. I’m a girl who loves writing, singing and acting. I love Niall Horan, I love musical theatre, and I love the show “Glee.”

And I have autism.

Growing up, I knew I was a little “different” from the other kids. School was a challenge. It started off with me having to miss my reception year and go straight into Year 1 because I’m an August birthday. But I couldn’t go when I should’ve started because I wasn’t ready on so many levels. Starting school in Year 1 was a challenge, but I soon settled in when the summer term came.

I would still get picked on every now and then, but it got worse when Year 2 came. I would find work challenging, I wouldn’t get along with teachers and once a week, I had to go to a younger class as I had to stay away from a teacher who misunderstood me so badly that I was almost expelled!

When I realized I was getting put back a year and would have to do Year 2 again, I was really confused. Everyone else moved up a class whilst I stayed where I was. It was quite annoying at times because we’d do some of the topics I already did the previous year, but now I understand. It was the best for me to be in my new year group, and I was still technically the same age as everyone because I was only older by a month.

Yes, being held back in school was for a good reason, but it didn’t always solve my problems. I would still get bullied, picked on and peers would misunderstand me.

I didn’t like being separated from certain people when the teachers would plan groups in class because lots of people would be with their friends and they’d know one another well, whilst I wasn’t. I wanted to be one of the popular kids and fit in, so I created my own “friendship group,” hoping the teachers would not separate me from certain people. The girls I put in my “friendship group” really didn’t like that label and to be honest, I was only best friends with one of them out of the group. But at the time, I was too scared to tell people why I made this whole “friendship group” label so people would ask me questions I didn’t know how to answer all the time.

When I got to Year 6, it was a challenge because it was my last year of primary school and I wasn’t going to my local secondary school like all my peers, because the local school didn’t have the right support for my needs. I was very upset about the whole thing. It wasn’t just that, my Year 6 teacher really misunderstood me and it got to a point where she “banned” the stuff I went on about like a special interest or the “friendship group.”

The main struggle of Year 6 was SATs, because everyone was in the same SATs room as their friends except for me. I had a huge meltdown the whole week, and because it was a test, I couldn’t leave the room to calm down. The teachers knew that being separated from my friends was a huge weakness of mine, but it was later revealed that my Year 6 teacher wanted me in the same room as her so she could mess with my SATs results. All my SATs results were wrong when I got to secondary school.

I hated the first secondary school I went to. I felt like the bullying got worse. I had a lot of fake friends, people trying to take advantage of me because I was autistic, and I couldn’t understand any of the work.

No one would be my partner in P.E. when the teacher said “pick a partner,” so I’d be left doing something on my own or with the teacher. The only times I was with a partner was when someone was off ill or something. P.E. was not one of my subjects as I’m more a music and drama person. The one good thing about my first secondary school was that I did make a small group of good friends, and I really liked my Drama teacher and my Music teacher (who was also my tutor).

When I got to Year 9, school went really downhill for me. The work became harder to understand, my homework was piling up, the bullying got worse, and I just couldn’t handle all the pressure that was on me.

I didn’t know who I was anymore. My insecurity of being “back-yeared” started to make me feel even more like the odd one out. I would be on the computer alone in the library at lunchtime and every day I came home, I wouldn’t even say “hi” to my mum. I would just go straight to my room and lie down on my bed.

When my mum realized how unhappy I was, she knew I couldn’t stay at that school any longer. She eventually came across a unit within another mainstream school called the “Base,” which was for people who were like me and stood in between the mainstream and special education system.

I eventually joined the Base in the summer term of Year 9 and the head of Base at that school even emailed my mum the day I came back from my first day saying, “It’s like she’s been with us the whole time!” I still had that insecurity of being “back-yeared,” but Base really helped get back on my feet and find who I was again.

It was also good to be with people who were like me.

In Year 11, I was the only Base student to take part in my school production of Bugsy Malone. I played a genderbent version of the character Fizzy, which meant I sung a solo song “Tomorrow” in front of an audience for three performances — something Year 6 Tilly wouldn’t have been able to manage.

Now I’ve left school and I’m about to start my musical theatre course at college in September. I’m no longer “back-yeared” and I’m excited to follow my dreams one day and making it big in Hollywood, West End, Broadway etc.

Life has always been challenging for me, even before I got diagnosed at the age of 4, but I want to tell the world that “I Know Where I’ve Been” (a musical theatre reference there).

I’ve also made names for myself like “Rebel,” “Autistic Rebel” and “Rebel With Autism.” I gave myself these nicknames when I was having a hard time at school in Year 8 and people would always say to me “You’re not a Rebel,” “If you’re a Rebel, do this or do that.” I’m not really a rule-breaker, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a rebel. Also, rebels don’t do what they’re told and yet they were asking me to prove I was a “rebel,” so there you have it. I don’t have to be a typical rebel to be a rebel, I’m my own unique version of a rebel and I’m known on TikTok as Rebel With Autism.

I hope one day, I inspire many people around the world to share their own stories and help the world understand autism. I hope autistic people will get representation in the mainstream entertainment industry and they start casting autistic leads in movies and musicals.

Yes, I’ve grown out of some special interests and new ones come in. Yes, I can still have my meltdowns which I’m a lot better at controlling now I’m older.

But at the end of the day, autism is a part of who I am and it’s who I’m meant to be.

You can follow my journey on:
TikTok – @rebelwithautism
YouTube – Tilly Robinson

Getty photo by Monkey Business Images.

Originally published: December 25, 2020
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