Ever since I was little I felt like I was different. I couldn’t make friends, the other kids thought I talked funny, I was the weird kid. I started to internalize a lot of these things. I was told that I talked too much or I would talk about the same thing for too long. I was dubbed the “annoying” one, and this was impressed into me until I would literally introduce myself as being an annoying person. I would tell people that if I started to get annoying they should just tell me to shut up. Imagine being a little kid, trying to make friends on the playground, and during your introduction instead of following your name with your favorite colors, activities, or toys, you would say “I have a tendency to be really annoying, so if I start talking too much or getting on your nerves, just tell me to shut up.”. Because I literally did, I would say that every time I met someone, especially if they were my age.
The bullying only got worse, as well as the abuse that was happening at home. I didn’t tell anyone about it because I didn’t understand. I was told I deserved it, and that it was okay because it was being done to me. I believed it wholeheartedly.
By the time I entered middle school, I had no self confidence. I absolutely hated myself. I literally couldn’t find one thing I liked about myself, aside from my eyes. I had always loved my eyes. I had hit puberty and started to have medical issues and that definitely didn’t help my body image.
Instead of being obsessed with Justin Bieber, I was the sixth grader who wanted to die.
One day it all became too much. My packed lunch had been in my backpack, and the can of root beer my mother had packed me had exploded. I had a total mental breakdown in the middle of the cafeteria. The students and teachers didn’t understand. It was just a can of root beer, after all. But I knew I would suffer for having ruined all of my papers and books. I had asked for the root beer, I should have known better. Eventually I was taken to counseling after I had been crying for over an hour in the lunchroom.
As I sat down at the counselor’s desk, she looked at my tear-stained face and told me that she didn’t care about my problems. That it was just teenage drama. That she had to hear it day in and day out, and that my problems were stupid and didn’t matter.This was the counselor that I greeted every morning in the lobby, said hello to daily in the hallways during the class changes.
I didn’t tell her about the abuse, about the bullying. How could I? I deserved it, and she thought so too.
I eventually stuttered out that I had considered suicide. I quickly told her that I wasn’t going to do it or anything, I knew it wasn’t a solution, but that I had thought about it. Her face suddenly changed, she sat up in her seat and her eyebrows drew together. She started rapid-firing questions at me, over and over. Did I have a plan? No. What was my plan? I didn’t have one. She never asked WHY I wanted to die. She never thought to ask me why I felt the way I did. She just saw another teenager who had used a word that she was required to report. After maybe 20 minutes of this (but it felt like hours) she walked me across the hall to the nurses office. I had to sit there on the cot for the rest of the day. The door was open and my classmates could see me, sitting on the side of a cot alone, crying, with a little puddle around my backpack as the paper towels inside hadn’t been able to soak up all of the soda. My mom had custody of me that week, and she worked as a bus driver. She couldn’t pick me up during the day.
Her boss’s husband came to pick me up and bring me to the lot. He was a police officer. I had to ride in the back of his police car the entire half hour ride to the lot. My mom picked me up from there and took me to the hospital. I remember saying over and over that it was a mistake, I didn’t need to be there, it was a misunderstanding. When I get anxious I get very repetitive. That’s probably what pointed the doctors to Autism.
I don’t remember much after that, except that there were lots of tests, lots of doctors. I was having the same thing happening due to the medical issues so I didn’t really distinguish the visits from each other. Eventually the examinations and tests and questions stopped, and my family acted normal again.
I didn’t feel any better. I just knew better than to talk about it now.
Come junior year of high school, I overheard my grandparents in the living room at night. They were talking about me. Saying that I would never get into college, my grades were slipping, that no one would want to accept a kid with Autism.
I started poking around and asking questions until finally the counselor I had been seeing (the court ordered that I have to see a counselor. We went through several. I only ever liked one but she didn’t take my insurance. I didn’t like this one.) finally told me the truth. That I had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome years and years ago. They hadn’t told me because then I would “go around telling everyone, use it as an excuse, be excluded, be put in special education classes, start showing more symptoms”.
Instead of being able to access help and therapy, and understand why I was different, I spent years thinking I was stupid. That I was worthless. I didn’t understand why my senses were more sensitive. I knew that I could see farther and better than others, but that I also had to wear sunglasses a lot because it was too bright. I was punished for stimming. I was punished for showing any symptoms. If I didn’t understand something, it was my fault. If I didn’t pick up on something, I was ignorant. I didn’t understand the negative intentions of the people around me and let too many people hurt me.
I was at a family party once and a boy said he wanted to be friends, he thought it would be grand to pretend we were dating. He walked around with his arm around my shoulders, and I didn’t know I had the right to tell him to stop. He led me away from the party and off toward the barn. I didn’t understand and just went with him. We were almost there when some adults from the party noticed and the men, who had been chugging beers all night, came and yelled at the boy, threatened him. I was asked why I didn’t punch him or get help. I didn’t know I needed to. I didn’t understand.
Not only does hiding your child’s Autism diagnosis hurt them, but it hurts you too. Would my mother have been so worried about my stimming if she had known that I wanted to die? Would it matter so much that I tapped my fingers or bounced my leg or smoothed the hairs on my arm, if it would mean that she wouldn’t have to see those same fingers laying limp by my side as I was buried six feet deep? Would she be so scared of telling me the truth if she had known the havoc that the lies were wreaking on my brain? Did she know the cost of hiding the diagnosis?
Hiding your kid’s diagnosis from them seriously damages their mental and emotional health. It prevents them from accessing therapy, getting the help they need. It enforces the stigma around mental illness and disorders. Your child is learning that it is something to be ashamed of. That they are something to be ashamed of.
Think of it like this: Your child is in a woodworking class with other kids, and at the beginning of a class there is a test to see what their skills are like. Each kid takes the test alone. Your child is given a bunch of pieces of wood to make a birdhouse. He/she is given all the wood, nails, etc. that they need. But no instructions or indication of what the model is supposed to be. Your child doesn’t know it is supposed to be a birdhouse. No tools. No hammer, no screwdriver, nothing. Your child tries their best to shove the nails into the wood, but is not very successful, and the birdhouse doesn’t really resemble one. When the child has exhausted all of their effort, they pick up their little wooden structure and bring it back into the classroom to give to the teacher. Standing in the line, your child sees that all of the other kids have perfectly assembled birdhouses. The nails are all in well, the wood is fitted properly, the birdhouses look perfect. The only reasoning your child can summon up is that he/she must just be stupid, or bad at woodworking. That they shouldn’t have even tried, I mean, all the other kids did it so well. So it must be his/her fault.
The thing is, what the child doesn’t know is that all the other kids had tools and instructions.
That is what it is like. Our brain doesn’t process things the same way as the brain of someone who isn’t on the spectrum. Without that knowledge, we don’t have the tools to be able to even the playing field. We think we were given the same opportunity and that we are just bad at things, we are just stupid or slow.
If the child had known that all the other kids had been given tools and instruction sheets, he/she wouldn’t have had those thoughts. Your child wouldn’t have blamed themselves, they would have understood that there were pieces of the puzzle missing. They would have been able to bring it to the teacher’s attention so that they could get the extra tools and instructions that they needed. Their birdhouse could have been just as perfect as the other children’s birdhouses.
Even if you don’t think your child’s Autism is all that bad, or that they don’t need therapy for it, or think that they will outgrow it (they won’t), or that they will just learn to cope with it, please please get them diagnosed. Tell them. Don’t keep it a secret from your child. My case is not extreme. There are a lot of invisible effects that Autism has on your child, lots of things you may not realize that are related. Your child may be hurting and not tell you. Why would they? They are ashamed of it.They want to be a perfect child for you. They love you that much. They hurt themselves because they love you.
Please love them back. Please don’t hide their diagnosis. It will make a world of difference to them.
It can be the difference between life and death.
Please tell your child the truth.