When my daughter was younger and for as long as I can remember she would have what I now know are autistic meltdowns. The kind where I had to hold her and she would look completely through me until she calmed down and I could get her to focus. She would be crying and frantic and just really out of her mind and I would just speak to her in a very slow and direct way to bring her “back to earth” and focused again. Sometimes just holding her tight until it passed.
There were a lot of signs she was autistic. A lot. But being autistic myself and the way I explained or tried to understand my own things…usually with this idea that it was somehow trauma related from my childhood…I did not think “hmm maybe I should get my child looked at or something”. I just helped her best I could. She was just “overly sensitive”. She was an artist like me and just felt things harder. No emergency and the meltdowns passed so why put her through going to a dr. She was fine. She just had things in moments.
I’m learning it’s a common theme with parents who are also not diagnosed or aware they are autistic. To not feel alarm about these things that in a way can be very similar to you. Of course right? And because women especially were not even considered to be autistic…it absolutely was NEVER on my radar. It was only in 2022 I learned that females could be autistic too. 2022. That will forever blow my mind. And it was entirely why I never once considered it.
Every single teacher my daughter ever had…ended up needing to speak to me about problems they were having with my daughter at school. Every. Single. One. When she was young one teacher told me “how do I get her to listen to me when I tell her it’s time to put away the crayons??” She told me “there are moments when we are working on a project and I will find her working on something else not anyway related to what we are doing. How do I get her to respect my authority and follow along with the rest of the class??” Now that should of alarmed me. But it didn’t. All I could think in my head was “maybe you are boring and I get why she would rather do her own thing.” lol I literally thought that. Why???? Because that was how I felt in moments at school. Because I read all kinds of books and always had one on me and in moments when a teacher was boring the fuck out of me with talking about a subject in class I would put my book inside my text book and read that instead. Because I was like my child. I didn’t see it as a concern or problem. I would explain that my daughter was very independent. (Because she was.) I would explain she was intelligent and needed to be handled in a different way than other kids. (Oh how very very true.) I explained what I would do to get her interested in what you were doing. Make it something that she feels she is in charge of in some way. Understand she is smart and capable and use THAT to convince her that whatever you are doing in a particular moment can not be accomplished without her involvement and give her special tasks to help YOU teach. One thing I knew about her is you had to be one step ahead of her mentally because she WAS smart and confident in how she did things. Make it about her and I promise you she will be your best little helper. And every time after I gave this advice…bam. The teacher suddenly had an easier time with her and developed a close relationship with her. She was so willing to learn. She was so frickin smart. One teacher I talked to I made him understand by saying “pretend she is an adult peer…pretend she thinks like an adult and is advanced in comprehension if explained like you would an adult.” He was the last teacher she had while we were in WI before moving to CA and we decided to email each other when problems came up and I’m telling you the difference it made. That teacher went from being completely frustrated with her to loving her and being so proud of her by the end of his being her teacher for that school year. To love my daughter was to understand her in a way that was different from her peers. She did not suffer fools. (Like me.) She wanted and deserved to be respected and treated fairly and she was on to this whole being treated like she was just a kid and didn’t know things. She could be or appear to be defiant of authority (just like me..remember we see no one as higher ups) ..and the way to deal with this was to not treat her like she had no right to question. Because she had ALL the questions. She couldn’t help that. It’s literally how her brain worked. But “higher ups” see this as questioning authority. They always have with me. And they did with her until I was able to explain to them how she worked.
The thing that people in authority miss is when I or my daughter ask “why are we doing it this way”…it is not a personal attack. It is a genuine question. It is our brains being very good at seeing the details of something and figuring out a better way we or others can do something. I can’t begin to explain how much most of my bosses at my many different jobs either hated this or LOVED this about me. Most hated it. Most pegged me as being defiant. Most saw me as a threat to their ability to keep the ranks in line. Most saw it as I was a trouble maker.
And one thought or idea I had that I will never forget at one particular job was to change a schedule around to make it more efficient. I suggested it to a supervisor..it was implemented and was badly received by my coworkers. My peers decided I was listened to because I must be sleeping with him. Ya that’s it. (Important to note..this change did not affect them in ANY way. It was because I spoke up and suggested it and he did it..there was the rub for my coworkers.) So of course…I must be sleeping with the boss for him to not only listen to my suggestions but implement them. I went a month of receiving the silent treatment from my coworkers..being incredibly hurt that they would do that to me and hearing the rumors going around before I finally snapped on the ring leader of the very demeaning rumor. Made her cry with my stern and direct way I confronted her about it but it was the lowest thing I had ever dealt with as a woman from fellow women to demean me like that in such a sexually demeaning way. I had had enough. She would run to another supervisor to claim she was attacked by me and fortunately for me..this supervisor understood exactly what was going on and told her “what you did was not fair to her and she had every right to say what she said. If you can dish it..be prepared for someone to say something about being mistreated.” My one and only coworker friend who truly knew me overheard the convo and let me know about what went down. I was grateful but boy did I learn a lesson about how others could so easily turn on me in a workplace. How I could so easily be misunderstood for simply having a good idea. I never again suggested anything to a boss again. I clocked in, worked hard and clocked out at every job after. Bosses out there take note. I was a natural asset to a company..a natural problem solver who shut it down for fear of being misunderstood and treated unfairly. It does not have to be this way.
So you see..I understood my daughter in ways no one else could. I knew her intent was not to be a know it all or difficult. She genuinely had good ideas and wanted to HELP. Not be difficult. HELP. She couldn’t help how she perceived authority. She couldn’t help constantly thinking and problem solving. Once her teachers understood how she thought..they stopped taking it personally. They didn’t coddle her. They didn’t make exceptions for her. They gave her what she needed for her type of thinking. They gave her more responsibilities and encouraged her independent thoughts. I am grateful every teacher she had was ABLE to understand this. I never had to explain it twice and I’m grateful these teachers were big enough to understand it. I suppose as a teacher you are very aware that all kids are not the same and do not learn the same. My daughter was that kid and she thrived in school once they understood how she learned. My daughter received the understanding and attention I would of loved to have been afforded when I was a student. And she was and is autistic. And I didn’t see any of it because it was my normal too…but I was still able to help her and help others around her understand where she was coming from.
If people understood..if they could only understand this can be very complex but not impossible to understand. And there are ways and things to do to help and encourage a different way of doing things and a different way of thinking about things that does not need to be separated from others to accomplish. Autistic humans can and in fact thrive among others who process information differently if they are only ALLOWED to take a different approach and are understood. They can learn in the same environments. They are no different in their need to feel okay and part of a group than anyone else especially at a younger age. More crucially at a younger age is the importance to feel they belong. If people would just let them in their way. Why oh why is the importance placed on everyone doing it the same way to achieve something and be successful when it could be placed on achieving it in whatever way feels best for them to do so. They must first accept this reality even exists..We need to keep talking about it. It needs to be normalized and accepted and common idea that you can in fact have many different ways of achieving the same thing and it is not bad to make exceptions to the rule. The “rule” needs to be expanded to accommodate all. Not be exclusive in definition. There is NO ONE WAY. And our educators and bosses need this to be included in their training.