WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO TELL MY OLD YEAR CO-ORDINATOR.
Every year when I was at high school, there was a school ski trip to New South Wales or Victoria (in 1989, it was to Queenstown, New Zealand). The teacher who was our year Co-Ordinator, Mr James, used to be the teacher in charge of the annual event. Typically, it was open to Year Twelve students, and extra places would subsequently be opened to Years Eleven and then Ten.
I made the mistake, in Year Eleven, when he was talking about night activities on the trip, of saying that I’d be one of the ones who’d rather stay at the chalet at night and read a book than head into a nearby town to attend a disco. He asked why he wouldn’t be surprised to hear that, only to tell me that I needed to get out more. Perhaps unexpectedly, my mother told me he was right!
What would have been nice (okay, granted, I did have an autistic friend at school, albeit undiagnosed) would have been if he’d been able to say, instead, if I had been diagnosed, is, “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was another autistic student at school with whom you could be friends and neurotypical standards of socialising weren’t imposed upon you?”
If I had followed some of his advice, it would have been a recipe for disaster. Not everyone I went to school with was bad, and to be fair, I think it pained Mr James a bit to see me on the outer. But what he didn’t know is, it didn’t worry me being on the outer if only my colleagues would respect it. Yes, it was nice to have someone to talk to, but, as the inspiration for Redmond Mountford’s wife said, when my maternal grandfather accused my mother of favouring my brother over me, “But Peter would be bored off his brain going around looking at caravans and the like!” So, what Mr James needed to note was, “But Peter would be completely out of place at a disco with loud music, flashing lights, not to mention some of the themes just aren’t him.”
I remember a kid in my class in Year Nine said, “I could see him at a concert with headbangers all headbanging, and he’d have his eyes closed and his fingers in his ears.” The kid wasn’t far wrong as it would be sensory overload!
I know Mr James meant well, and I’m not bitter or angry towards him, and I even remember, when one student in my class said that she got on well with a teacher and I said that I did, too, Mr James replied, “But you could get on well with any teacher. I’m not picking on you, but you could.” But he was right.
I also remember, and I thought he was ridiculing me, but Mr James used to give us a whinge session in Human Relationships Education and some people complained about how the Deputy Principal told us that we couldn’t tuck our sweatpants into our socks and I said to him, “Before we could wear sweatpants, it used to be downright cold in winter time having to wear shorts, and other schools didn’t have them. And it was only to school.” Mr James replied, “But you’ve got to be trendy at school, too, Pete.” When I told my mother, she said, “No, he was picking on them, not you.”
I’m not saying people shouldn’t get out of their comfort zone, but people shouldn’t be ridiculed if they bring comfort items with them.
Yes, I will probably need plenty of recovery time after the school reunion, but I am pleased to find that some people in my year are my fellow neurodiverse people.