Going through some old files recently I found some letters and notes written by child Susanna. Letters and notes that are distressing and need to be seen as they highlight the full effect that Autism has on a child. Today is World Autism Awareness Day, so I figured what better time to share them than now….
This is the earliest, I believe I was about seven or eight at the time I wrote it as I wasn’t yet using pen and that was when I first became interested in films (something I mentioned wanting to get involved in on the opposite side):
As a child I never intended to misbehave. As this note so clearly states I was simply unable to vocalise the frustrations I was feeling which meant the anger just continued to build inside of me and the only way I had to release it was to lash out at others.
Despite me being aware that this wasn’t in my control, from the moment I entered formal education I was labelled as naughty. I spent more time standing outside the Headteacher’s office, on display to the school, than I did in actual classes and as you can see this had a profound effect on my mental wellbeing. No child should even be aware that killing one’s self is a thing let alone feel like they want to do it.
In these hard times I am struggling and with the whole family locked up in one house tensions are running high at the moment. Even today, every single time I lose my cool I’m filled with these same emotions. I just want to be good but when things get too much, ‘my mind sort of stops’ and I just can’t control what I feel or do.
The next two letters are written directly to my mum. Over the years I’ve written many apologies and explanations to my mum. I’ve always struggled (as mentioned above) to discuss my feelings so I write instead, that’s why I begun blogging, as a coping mechanism. These letters come as a pair but deliver two very different messages:
I find this first letter rather humorous. I mean what kind of 10 year old can use the word ‘privileges’ in the correct context? But as innocent as the message seems there’s more to it. I didn’t receive my own room for another eight years and even now I still crave that sense of ‘space’. Because of my autism I have heightened hearing so even when in my own room it’s hard to totally separate myself from stressful situations.
In regards to the privileges I requested, it was round about this time that, maybe because of this letter, maybe not, I was allowed to stay up one hour later than my sister once a week to watch Bleak House with my mum and ever since then period drama has kind of been our thing.
This second letter is actually the one that I find (out of all of them) registers deepest with me:
As some of this is written in yellow which is hard to read I’ll translate:
I have realized that I’m useless at everything. I’ll never ever get my level five or be good at netball or ever grade in karate.
When I found these two letters I was feeling low and ‘useless’. It was hard to accept the idea that I’d been feeling the exact same stuff for over 14 years and nothing had changed. But then I read that list, the list of things 10 year old Susanna would never do and I realised I’ve done them all.
The most significant was ‘my level five’ which refers to my Year 6 Maths SATs exam. I was only predicted a Level 4 and was being privately tutored by the school Maths teacher in order to improve my chances. However, both her and my class teacher were pretty certain that Level 5 was out of the picture.
But on results day as the teacher, rather insensitively, read all the results out to the class she took a little gasp before announcing that I had in fact got the passmark for Level 5. My mum was helping my sister’s class with an event so I ecstatically asked if I could go and tell her. As I pelted down the corridor filled with pride and joy I ran into my tutor before bursting through the doors to the main hall and leaping into my mum’s arms.
I’ve been trying to cling on to that feeling of achievement recently, reminding myself that I may be on an extended hiatus but I’ve achieved a lot. I may not match up to societal expectations but despite everything I’ve got a bloody Masters!!!
The date of this final letter is a guess made by my dad and it’s only now that I’ve realised just what it may be about…
If my dad’s prediction is correct, I believe this was written shortly after I started secondary school, potentially when I got suspended for 24 hours for losing control and lashing out.
I found it really hard transitioning from primary school to secondary school. I went from a familiar environment with people I’d known forever to a place where I knew no one. I was an outsider and struggled to make friends, I also couldn’t cope with the increase in workload and need for organisation. I was bullied from the moment I stepped foot in that school until the moment I left and for six whole years received barely any support. I was simply punished, made to feel like everything I did was wrong even when it wasn’t in my control.
The sense of guilt and responsibility mentioned in this letter still runs through my blood and dictates so much of how I feel about myself.
The reason I’ve chosen to share these personal letters is to emphasise that, none of the negative emotions mentioned in these letters have ever left me. Autism doesn’t just go away. Yes I’ve learnt to understand myself better, I’ve taught myself ways of coping and I’ve overcome specific issues but my brain will always be wired differently to that of a Neurotypical person.
I genuinely believe that if I’d been diagnosed earlier, received support throughout my education and generally just been better understood, my life would be different. I could show you many more files that prove just how much I was let down by the education system but that’s not the point of this blog.
To summarise it all here is one last picture, one last note written by child Susanna. It says it all and I think the only thing that’s really changed is that about 14 years on from writing this I now know the answer to number four, the answer is Autism: