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Self esteem and confidence as young people on the autism spectrum

October 17, 2019

I was having a chat with my husband last night about our self esteem and confidence as young people on the autism spectrum.

We discussed how sensitive we were to the energies of our teachers and classmates.

I knew when teachers didn’t like me. I felt it strongly.

But whether someone was fond of me or not made no difference to the fact that I had to attend school.

School was hard. On the outside, I know I may have appeared confident and even possibly had a stronger energy than many of my classmates.

But I didn’t feel strong.

I faked it.

In fact, I faked so much of my earlier years right into my adulthood that I had no idea who I was or what I was capable of.

My husband and I talked about how sensitive we were.

How much it hurt when we felt others didn’t like or approve of us.

This is not a defect of character or a sense of neediness.

It is a characteristic of our autistic expression.

A part of the sensitivity that we are born with.

I had the same teacher for Grades 1, 2 and 4.

She didn’t like me.

I can still see her frowning face and rolling eyes in my direction.

I can still feel the shame and humiliation of her questioning and analysing everything I said and did.

I had been shut down into submission with her.

Compliance.

But to a concerning degree.

When I heard at the end of Grade Three that she was going to be our teacher for the following year, I experienced anxiety for the entire summer holidays.

I made a pledge within my ten year old heart that I would change.

I would make myself more bearable for her.

On the first day of Grade 4, I did my very best.

I wasn’t a bad student. I talked a lot.

But I wasn’t poorly behaved at that point.

On our return from lunch, I was sitting at the desk, waiting for a paper handout.

My teacher passed out the handouts, smiling and chatting with everyone along the way.

When she got to me, she bent over me slowly and hissed

“I don’t ever want to hear about you being in this room during lunch again. Ever. Is that understood?”

“Sorry” I responded with my head down.

Fear, sadness, shame and failure washed over me and I froze.

I held back my tears and ten minutes later, she returned.

She addressed me in front of the whole class this time, with a raised voice and angry expression.

“Kristy! I’ve just been told you weren’t in here at lunch time! WHY did you not tell me this?!” in an annoyed tone.

“Sorry” I responded, again.

She was angry.

First, she was angry with me for something I hadn’t done.

Then, she was angry with me for something she now knew I hadn’t done and hadn’t owned up to not doing.

I internalised in that moment of accusation that I, in fact, must have entered the room during lunch and somehow not remembered.

And this was not a one off, with my teacher only.

I had so many people back me into corners

Hiss in my face

Threaten me

Harm me

And I honestly, very seriously didn’t know

They were wrong.

I thought it was me.

I was to blame.

I deserved it.

So I didn’t speak up.

Didn’t ask for help.

Because I honestly, very seriously, didn’t know

Anyone would care.

This was my life as a child who was different.

I would be blamed or accused and I would run with it.

It was easier than defending myself or saying No.

I would convince myself that they were right and I was wrong.

And would you believe that there are autistic adults who are still doing this today?

As adults?

We are often so sensitive, so self doubting, so afraid and filled with inadequacy and disconnection from ourselves that this is how we live out our lives.

We then easily walk straight into unhealthy relationships with others.

We self blame.

We surround ourselves with others who mistreat us and then we continue on their work by mistreating ourselves.

So how can we stop our autistic children from becoming this way?

By supporting them to trust in their intuition.

By hearing their No.

By giving them the opportunity and the right to autonomy.

By allowing them to disagree with us.

By saying no to therapies that seek to normalise via compliance.

Unquestionable control and compliance is dangerous for autistic people.

We are more often than not vulnerable to predators.

Our children need us to teach them how to exert their rights and to feel strong and confident enough to do so.

There were more devastating situations similar to this for me, that I was unable to escape from.

That many of us are unable to avoid.

Sometimes the energy of adults can feel so powerful, so strong

That as autistic children, we feel completely intimidated and overpowered

Simply be being in a person’s presence.

And we accept very quickly that there isn’t a choice for us.

That we must comply.

When we know we are loved

Important

Valued

And embraced as who we are

We have the best start in life.

For my autistic family and community,

I want you to know

That

When somebody disagrees with you

Criticises you

Bullies you

Mistreats you

You are STILL 100% worthy

And beautiful

And whole and complete

As an autistic person.

I hated my sensitivity by the time I was a young adult

I blamed it for my trauma

My susceptibility

But it is a wonderful, beautiful, much needed quality

And what I needed

What we needed as autistic children

Was to know how to use our sensitivity for good

But to set boundaries

To know the importance of self love

And self care

And to my fellow parents raising autistic children

We have the right and responsibility to hear our children when they speak

When they say they are scared

We can pay attention and take seriously, changes in our childrens’ behaviour

We can model healthy relationships

Treat ourselves with love and kindness

Say NO for our children when they cannot or are not strong enough to

And we do not have to accept that life has to be a certain way

Just because it has been for others

We can parent in the way that is right for our family.

 

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