Growing up, I was a very shy child. There were scenarios that I hated to be in, including parties and fancy dress. I hated many of the games that my peers liked to play and only liked to play certain games. I was different.
I remember my favourite toy at my grandmother’s house – a wooden duck-shaped pencil sharpener. Each time I visited my Nan, I’d have to get the pencil sharpener out. It was my favourite toy to play with and I loved to imagine it was a real duck, floating on the pond. My pond was in mid-air, mind you, but it was still there.
“What are you doing? Play normally” my grandmother said. She took the sharpener off of me and sent me to play outside.
Nan bought me several dolls. I had dolls at home too, but I wasn’t interested in them. They made me uncomfortable, I preferred horses, zebras and dogs – I preferred animals.
I didn’t like playsets. Playsets were far too restrictive. They were more about using all of the included toys, and less about imagining. I didn’t want to imagine the included rider riding the horse, I wanted to imagine that I am the rider!
I didn’t have an interest in a lot of the games that my peers used to play. I’d be invited to play House and I’d recoil in horror. House meant dolls, and dolls were meant to be babies. I hated babies.
The games that I did enjoy were far more about action and adventure. I enjoyed playing bat and ball because we played bat and ball at home. I enjoyed skipping because I used to skip at home. I used to love playing Cops & Robbers, and I’d get upset if nobody else wanted to play. I remember playing soldiers and spies too, I adored playing soldiers and spies.
Opinions on me were always very mixed. Some said I was autistic, and others said that simply wasn’t the case. Some doctors would suspect it, and a school nurse told my mother that she was neurotic. In any event, this matter was never fully laid to rest.
I grew up with a lot of sensitivities, particularly to noises and textures. If a plane flew over, I’d hit the floor and cover my ears. As I got older, I’d quickly run inside. When it came to vegetables, for a long time I would only eat carrots or fruit.
I remember the appointment well, the way my doctor addressed me. He was kind, empathetic and friendly. He asked me what I thought, and so I told him that I had friends and a boyfriend. He agreed and said he didn’t suspect that I was autistic.
I remember my Mum screaming at me after that appointment. She told me that I’d shat all over her and had a month to get a job. I remember feeling very anxious, scared and confused. The woman who was supposed to love and protect me, I felt was no longer loving or protecting me. I didn’t know where to go, or what to do next.
That was the first time that I ran away from home. I grabbed some of my contraceptive pill, some underwear and I headed for Matt’s home. On my way out, I told my brother that I loved him and I may never see him again.
I suppose what changed me was the very thing that so many autistic people struggle to make – friends. I saw a girl in my Girl Guides pack who was funny and energetic. I wanted to be with her, I wanted to be like her, and we became friends.
Kelly and I used to laugh and joke a lot. When I met my secondary school friend, Keri, my world began to change. I was no longer shy and scared, I was open. Keri and I used to play the Tomb Raider games, we’d go fishing together and practice AirSoft. Until she decided one day to end our friendship, she was my best friend.
Growing up different has been a challenge. I had to find my way and find the people that I like to be around. It took therapy for me to understand that it’s fine for me to like some things and not like others. Those are preferences, not disorders. It took talking to other people my age (who were children once) for me to understand that my way of playing was no different to them and it took finding my own friends for me to know what I wanted in a friend. I’m not into fashion and make-up, and that’s okay.
My mother insists that she still believes I’m autistic, and I still believe that I’m not. Nearly everyone that I’ve shared my story with commends me for the person that I am – confident, witty and bubbly. We don’t really talk about it anymore, but I can’t forget the way that this label has impacted me.
Out of curiosity, I took a look at the Autism Quotient to see how I would fare. From the required 32 to reach a borderline score, I managed a mere 14 – I guess I enjoy socialising with people a little too much these days for me to qualify anymore!
I’ve done a lot of researching since, and I’ve tried to understand everything from autism to sensory processing disorders. In understanding sensory processing, I was able to discover HSPerson and I was able to identify that I am a Highly Sensitive Person, an empath. Doing that has made me be able to bond with many other truly wonderful, great, supportive empathic people like me, who feel and think like I do and who are overstimulated sometimes like I am – I love life as an empath!
Today, I embrace that I am different. I’m highly sensitive, but that’s a far cry from having an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Being empathic is not something that I need to change in me, it’s something in me that I need to understand, love and embrace. It’s not something that I want to change in me, it’s just a part of what makes me, me. I still have some noise sensitivities and I still think helicopters are spying on me. I also have a far more varied diet now, but no, I still don’t like peas or broccoli.
The Dark Side Of Different – A Message To Parents
If I had one thing to conclude this post with, please, please never treat a sensitive child as “different”. They may have sensitivities that drive you up the wall and around the bend, love them anyway! The downfall of my Mum’s anxieties and treating me as different is that, for a long time, I have believed that I am different, badly different! I have believed that I am odd or strange and I have spent a lot of my time going over and picking on the things about me that make me odd or strange and tried to be more ‘normal’, which naturally lead me into depression and anxiety. Please never, ever let your child feel judged by you. They need you, they need you to love them and they need you to support them for who they are. Don’t judge your child if they aren’t interested in the things that you would expect them to want to do, embrace them, tightly, exactly as they are.
Keep smiling everyone!