TWO DAYS, TWO SIGNS.
The memories are as clear as sunlight. I was in my first semester of high school and I had to spend six hours a day, five days a week with kids I did not like. The day I liked the least was Tuesday, as we had maths, manual arts (I especially hated graphics and struggled no end with it), physical education, social science (which I loved), science and sport. This day was a Friday and we the first class was music. I like listening to music, but studying it and learning to read notes was like being plopped in the middle of Oslo with a book of phrases in Chinese! After that we had science, then English, social science and Japanese (which I also loved) and after lunch, maths and home economics. Finally, the end of the week was nigh, and I didn't have to think about school for another two days. I had just had enough, though. I had the bully of the class sitting next to me.
Then, as I had been battling with a cough all week, my mother had ruled that I had to see the doctor that afternoon. As an autistic, I can be inflexible with many things, where I like routine, but if I have to do something, at times, I tend to think, well, is that so vital that I can't escape it that day? Sometimes it is. I remembered, later in the year, my mother saying, "Oh, you can't do that on this day, because you've got tennis." Well, if you're training for a special tournament where you can have a junior world ranking if you win, yes, it must be a priority, but if it's just something you're doing at your mother's insistence, well, you can always attend another class another day to make up for the one you missed. Likewise, for school, the last semester of Grade Twelve, you should not miss a day, unless you are ill, but if you're in Grade Eight, you can possibly say, "Oh, well, that subject isn't a priority, I can be late for school to attend a doctor's appointment and catch up later." So, anyway, I had an appointment with a doctor I thought was okay, and there had been a delay for some reason, when the receptionist asked if we'd like to see the doctor I didn't like, and my mother had agreed I wouldn't have to see, and my mother jumped at it! I had a meltdown in the waiting room! My mother later attempted to justify her actions by saying, "I know, the situation became such that we had to." Well, hello, no, you don't! We would have probably only had to have waited another five or ten minutes, fifteen at the most, to see the one I preferred. And my mother wonders why I am not close to her, among other reasons.
Jump to the next day, and we had to attend a birthday party for a friend of my parents who had turned 50. This friend of my parents was of the school of thought that kids and adults shouldn't sit at the same table at meal times. I say, unless you are talking about really grown-up stuff, that is failing to acknowledge that their kids will grow into adults. For there I was, my parents were at one point, my brother was complaining of feeling unwell, and I was sitting at a table set up in the friend's garage, attacking a barbecue dinner of steak, sausages, some cooked vegetables and salad, enjoying a conversation with a woman who had a daughter who was a teacher! That woman was old enough to be my mother. If this friend's wife had her way, and she did, even in my parents house, I would have been seated away from them at 18, As it was, at 16, I wasn't allowed to eat at the table with them! Yet, there I was, at the party, eating and talking to a woman who didn't talk down to me, didn't view me as a small boy, or anything.
What do these things tell you about this autistic person? Well, one thing is that an autistic person's maturity, not just chronological years, but, physical, mental and emotional maturity is not easy to qualify or quantify. Yes, the same may be said for a neuro-typical, who might be a demure hospital nurse during the week and play lock forward for their local football team of a weekend. When an autistic person is pushed to their limits and the straw that not just breaks but shatters the camel's back is applied, a meltdown will ensue. When, however, an autistic person is given the freedom, even in a trying situation, to have a place of calm and safety, they can come out of their shell and be comfortable about it, too, especially if permitted to engage in their special interest.
The one thing I wish I could have had in both cases was for a support worker to have been present. In the first case, to overrule my mother and say, "Right, you want your other son to have a haircut this afternoon. You take him on and I'll wait here with Peter for his preferred option." In the second case, to have done a recce of the party and to have firstly been able to say, "Okay, there's a safe person over there for you to sit opposite," and then to have gone to my mother and my father's friend and said, "Look over there. What you see is an autistic kid comfortably eating his dinner and talking to a safe person, and not one who plays upon his sensory disturbances. That is what you need to encourage."