A week before my daughter had her fifth birthday I took her for an appointment at a local clinic. She can’t remember anything about that day at all but we left with life long diagnosis and a relief of knowing why my daughter was different. That was the day she was diagnosed autistic.
I don’t believe in hiding things from children. Children are way more resilient than we often give them credit for and they deserve to know about their own diagnosis if it is appropriate for them. I didn’t want my daughter growing up thinking she was ‘weird’ or ‘different’ as her dad grew up with those same feelings and it has really affected his mental health as an adult. Unfortunately he wasn’t diagnosed autistic until he was 59 and the not knowing and therefore not having access to support has affected him negatively for many years.
I wanted my daughter to grow up proud of who she is, autism and all.
I have never once sat down with either of my children and told them they are autistic. I have never talked about the ‘triad of impairments’, or sensory difficulties or how being autistic makes her vulnerable and different to others. Her understanding of autism has organically developed over time by living with a twin brother who is non verbal with learning difficulties and who is also autistic, experiencing her own autism daily and seeing how her dad experiences life differently to me as an autistic adult. Anytime she has had questions or concerns I have explained things openly and as simply as possible.
She has also watched me advocate for her, her brother and her dad. Meanwhile, in her mainstream class she has seen another five children receive the same diagnosis as her despite being very different. She has been exposed naturally to a wide spectrum of autistic people and non autistic people and this has allowed her to form her own opinions of what autism is.
So when I told her I was planning to make some autism pictures for autism awareness month she freely asked if she could do them instead. I listened to her ideas and instantly loved them and so thought April 2019 she set about to embark on a project that has opened my eyes to just how much she understands about autism and given me great insight into how she sees the world.
If you asked Naomi ‘what is autism?’ she would be unable to answer you. If you asked her ‘what is autism like for you?’ she would also struggle. But allow her to show you and her insight and awareness is truly remarkable. Without even knowing it she touched on all the main ‘features’ of autism from communication:
To literal thinking:
To the need for routine:
To sensory issues:
To sleep struggles:
From liking rules:
To needing to be alone:
From struggling with things (or being brilliant at them):
To feeling overwhelmed:
From struggling with choice:
To liking repetition:
From needing comforts:
To finding words hurtful:
From the need to finish things before moving on:
To finding bathrooms scary:
She even covered the seasonal issue of Easter since it landed right in the middle of awareness month:
Her pics were simple, effective and, other than her hashtag, had no other mention of autism. All she wanted to show was summed up nicely in her first ever pic:
So when I told her that hundreds of people were following her pictures and asking if they could keep them she chose to end with a little humour….
She found it quite amusing that the majority of people who wanted to ‘collect’ her pictures were in fact more like her than they perhaps realised.
At just ten she’s proud to be exactly who she is but she wants others to know and understand that while someone may be autistic you may be far more able to relate to them than you might think.
‘We might all be different but in so many ways we are just the same.’
I could not be more proud of her.