My daughter attends her local mainstream school. Her grades are average and her behaviour perfect. She is mostly happy to go to school and is never late with her homework. She appears to be an ideal student and school report ‘all is well’.
But all is far from well with my child!
She no longer receives occupation therapy, or speech therapy or any other support in school. Her grades are considered a reflection of the fact she is coping well and therefore her autism is deemed to be ‘high functioning’ simply by the fact she can answer simple times tables questions or write a story.
But there is nothing either ‘high’ or ‘functioning’ about her autism in any way!
The dictionary defines high as “great, or greater than normal, in quantity, size, or intensity.”
My daughter has high ANXIETY, high EMOTIONS, high SENSITIVITY but not high autism!
She struggles with noise, touch, change, lights, attention, demands placed on her, eating, drinking, toileting, self care, socialising and understanding the world. Just because she can read a book, sit quietly in a classroom and sing in assembly does not make her autism any less.
The dictionary defines ‘function’ as “the kind of action or activity proper to a person, thing, or institution; the purpose for which something is designed or exists; role.” Is it ‘proper activity’ for a person to break down in tears and make herself sick because the school has changed her gym day for a few weeks? Is it ‘proper activity’ for a child to be unable to interact at all with other children in the school playground? Is it ‘proper activity’ for a child to stop eating and drinking completely due to anxiety?
Her autism does not disappear when she is at school. All that happens is she conforms. She ‘follows along’ like a sheep in the hope that no-one notices. Inside she is breaking up, welling up and churning up but all anyone sees is a child who can write in a jotter, sit on a seat and tidy up when asked.
A child with autism in mainstream school should never be assumed to have ‘high functioning’ autism simply by the fact they are in a ‘normal’ school classroom. Just because they have the same uniform on as all the others does not mean they are the same.
Inside they are either feeling sick, shaking with anxiety or screaming. The flickering light is causing them pain, the humming of the radiators is making them want to cry and the child next to them leaning on their desk or touching their pencil case is causing them to want to run away. Can you see any of that or do you just see a child with a pencil in their hand writing?
School don’t see the pain in her eyes when I pick her up at three o’clock. They don’t see the teeth grinding, the skin picking and the disengagement. They don’t see the lining up of everything, the screaming and the cowering in a corner. They are not dealing with the sleepless nights begging me to come in bed beside her or the full on food refusal because her anxiety is making her ill.
They look at test scores, conformity, and academic skills and decide that my child at best has ‘high functioning autism’ or at worse is ‘fine.’
She is neither.
She has autism. Simple as that. She is every bit as autistic as her non verbal brother who has severe learning difficulties and attends a special needs school.
Don’t dismiss her struggles based solely on the school she attends.
School can say what they like but there is nothing ‘high’ or ‘functioning’ about her autism at all.