#WIWMTU Sara's Story

I wish my teachers had known that I wasn't refusing to cooperate.
 

The first time that the fact that I am not always able to talk when I'm supposed to caused me trouble was in fourth grade. I was generally known as being a very shy kid, and up to then teachers hadn't really bothered trying to get me to answer questions in class, but this one did. He tried waiting, repeating the question, and asking easier questions instead, but nothing worked. I had hundreds of possible answers in my head, but they just didn't come out. As if this wasn't weighing me down enough already, the teacher had developed a real ambition to help me with my problem along the way, becoming increasingly frustrated himself as his methods failed.The shy kid theory was soon abandoned, and I became the really stubborn kid that deliberately refused to cooperate. 

I continued to have difficulties with talking on and off until today. Sometimes it is just a single question I have to leave unanswered, but it also happened that I wasn't able to say a word in a certain environment, such as school, for hours, weeks or months. Sometimes I did get away with just being shy, but I've also made people look strange or be angry. I've explained a million times (at least that's how it feels) to teachers that if I didn't talk, it was because I wasn't able to, but somehow they usually found the option that I was deliberately boycotting their authority more plausible. 

It was upsetting to be branded as a difficult kid, to be made responsible for behavior I was not able to influence although I tried so hard. Not being understood and being called a liar when I tried to explain. By the time I was a teenager I was so tired of trying that I decided to take over their narrative. Instead of trying to explain myself I started throwing accusations. 

It was a downward spiral that would certainly have ended badly if it wasn't for some teachers who still believed in me. Although I wouldn't get diagnosed with autism until much later, they saw through my frustration turned aggression, and understood how much I was struggling. They couldn't really convince the whole team, and where probably called naive by those teachers claiming I had bad intentions. And although they couldn't give me any real solutions either, they listened to me, and believed my problems were real. Those teachers made me feel less alone, and in the end, they are the ones that gave me the power to survive the school system. 

But yes, I wish the others would have known this too. I wish they would have known that if they would have given me some time and a quiet place, a pen and a piece of paper, or in some cases both, communication wouldn't be so problematic. I wasn't trying to harm them. The whole situation was as unsettling to me as it was to them. I wasn't fighting them, and I wish they wouldn't have fought me, as I had enough other battles to fight. And yes, this story is also a plea for the kind of openness that is sometimes called naivety, for looking behind the difficult behavior, for accepting and reassuring, even if you don't understand. As those are the things that kept me going until, just a couple of years ago, I was able to get a diagnosis. 

I have grown up to become a happy autistic adult. I have a job I love, and lots of side projects. I've come across people who have kindly shared parts of their lives and their social networks with me. Not out of pity, but out of genuine interest. The teachers that helped me were right, holding through was totally worth it, and I am still grateful to them for their support.