Going Through School as an Undiagnosed Autistic: Twitter thread

For the original twitter thread see here: https://twitter.com/Saraheboon/status/1249393998579597312

Too often, autistic girls go through school undiagnosed or unrecognised as being autistic. As a late-diagnosed autistic woman, I thought I would share a thread on my experiences of going through the education system. (Pls share with those who work in education/anyone interested)

I was seen as the ‘quiet kid’. Every school report/parents evening, the main issue would be “She doesn’t ask for questions/doesn’t ask for help”. 2 reasons were high levels of anxiety and not knowing when/how to ask questions in a classroom environment when needed. (1)

 Also, when the teacher would ask us to ‘form groups’ This was challenging for me if I was in a class with no friends. Often I would be the only child asking the teacher for help with joining a group (2). 

I would never be the centre of a social group. I would be on the edges. From a distance, it would look like I was socially integrated, when the reality was I never knew when it was my turn to talk when playing. (3) 

There were times when I had no friends in school, due to misreading social situations. During break and lunchtime, I would be in the library alone, not socialising with anybody. (4) 

Bullying was common. I was bullied at school from age 7-16. Most of this happened in the corridors when the teachers were not present. Being autistic made it hard for me to disclose. At 24, those experiences still impact my mental health today. (5)

 There was no safe space for me to escape from this, the closest I got to it was hiding in the school toilets. (6) 

School was loud, smelly, and an all-around sensory hell for me. This was probably contributed to me being the ‘quiet kid’ as I was experience sensory overload and tried to get through it by not communicating with anybody. (7) 

At lunchtime, I would always eat the same lunch every day. A marmite sandwich with a banana and packet of salt and vinegar crisps. (to be honest, not much has changed since then) (8) 

School day trips were usually fine, but I had significant issues with residential ones until I was in my teens. I couldn’t cope with 24 hours of being with peers (often cried), and I was made to feel guilty by my teachers for having a limited diet/not eating the food on offer.(9)

 I was diagnosed with dyslexia during school, another neurodiverse condition. It’s not uncommon for autism to co-exist with ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and others (pls comment below ones I may have missed out on). (10) 

I went through school feeling very lost, my deficits were clearly pointed out to me, nobody ever thought to point out my strengths. (11) 

Academically, I was encouraged to just ‘pass’ as my teachers didn’t think I was capable of more. When I changed schools at 16, I became a straight-A student, and I am now completing my second degree. (12) 

The transition to secondary school was difficult. The increased executive function tasks exhausted me! Having to remember when I needed certain books/equipment for 10+ subjects and moving it all around 5 times a day was extremely challenging. (13) 

Add in the complex world of being surrounded by the hidden social rules of teenage girls, and others expecting you to know them only adds to how difficult secondary school is. (14) 

Trying to figure which one of my peers was lying and who wasn’t is energy draining. I had little capacity left to focus on lessons. (15)

 If I got sad at school, I wouldn’t let it show. It looked like I was fine and just getting on with my work. The reality was, my emotions would come out at home. My parents and my sister were the only ones who saw the negative impact the school environment was having on me. (16) 

I thought that being my authentic-self at school would cause even more problems for me. That is why I masked (pretending to be someone I’m not). It was an automatic process for me, almost a form of survival. The fear of my ‘real’ me found out was terrifying. (17) 

From about age 10, my mum would let me walk home alone from school to encourage independence. This only lasted a year, as I was being bullied on the way home. When there are no adults about, nobody could hold bullies to account. I was then picked up by car for my safety. (18)

 As I was socially on the edge of groups (or alone), I was often overlooked. Both by other students and teachers. (19)

 My mum would constantly be going to the school, sharing her concerns about my experiences. As I appeared to be ‘fine’ in class, the school rarely paid attention/tried to make things better for me. (20)

 There were a few students who were cruel to me because they didn’t understand my differences. This included comments such as “Being the worst person in the school” and “I’m leaving this room because someone I don’t like walked in” (I was the only person who walked in). (21)

 I just thought I would add a note. Although these experiences are common for autistic girls, they are also similar for autistic people who don’t identify as female. Honestly, I could write a whole book on this topic! (and maybe I will one day πŸ€”) but I feel most of the key points are covered about going through school undiagnosed.

Again these views are purely based on my own experiences. But I just don’t one anyone else to experience what I went through. I want schools to recognise the struggles autistic people face and for schools to be more autism-friendly 😊

 For a bit of context, this was based on my school experiences in the UK from 1999-2011 (age 4-16). Although based on some of the responses, it sounds like not a lot has changed….. 

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