Tad Auty.. A school excursion.

5 Sep

It’s been a while since I featured a guest post on the blog. I decided that I wanted to hear from those who had a deeper insight into the world of autism, but even more so Aspergers! It was a few weeks back when I received a friend request trough Facebook, by Tad Auty. Tad a 40-year-old Australian female who is on the autism spectrum (diagnosed with Aspergers), was also an active member on the Facebook page ABWA. I noticed that this Inspiring, clever lady was dishing out some pretty good advice! Members were gaining a great insight on what life was like for someone on the spectrum. I read a comment that Tad recently made on one of the treads on the group wall. It was started by one of our page admins who wrote about a social situations encountered by her young son who has a diagnosis of AS. Tad’s comment was a real eye opener for many parents reading it, Myself included. So with this I decided to invite her to write the next Guest post. I was delighted when she agreed, and with a topic in hand (School excursion) Tad got to work in producing the following piece.

I hope you enjoy! I know I did🙂

Claire Louise

The remainder of this post is written by Tad Auty, a 40-year-old mother diagnosed with Aspergers and living in Australia.

I was asked to share with you, how I feel, how I see things…as a hope that it will help to explain how some of your children may feel in certain situations…

I’m a 40 year old female who was diagnosed with Aspergers at 33, after many years of depression and feeling like I was weird, wondering why, if I was good at jigsaw’s, I couldn’t figure out how to “fit in”. Why had I ended up being a divorced mum of 3, when I thought I was going to be a “Ologist” of some sort! (as a kid I went from geologist, to archaeologist, psychologist, anthropologist, theologise….anything with “ologist” interested me) Why was I so clever & strong in many ways, but SO DUMB in others, unable to do simple things that others can. Like be quiet! I had read about autism, (I had read about a lot of psychology as a small child, trying to figure out how I was “supposed to be”) but what I had read about autism, was all about non-verbal people. When I moved in next to Johnny, my eyes were opened.

Johnny was 4-years old when I met him. He wasn’t verbal, he flapped and shrieked and liked lining things up. My children loved Johnny and had a real gift at being able to play with him in a way that didn’t upset Johnny or get into his space too much. I would watch Johnny and was able to predict a lot of the time, what he was about to do. People would say “I wonder why he does that?” and I would reply, “Well I can’t be SURE, but I did that too, and it was because of…..”

Johnny only ate certain shaped and coloured food, and you couldn’t changed brands on him…..I would say “Of course you can’t change brands!!” Johnny would line up blocks and not let others join in. People would say “He wont let you join in”, but after weeks of watching, I worked out his pattern and system! I knew I had to drag the block on the carpet in a perfect straight line, then lift it to my lips and brush it across them, then slide the block back in a straight line along the carpet. I was so nervous when I tried it, as he watched on about to shriek or disengage at any second, but he watched on, and then saw what I did, THOUGHT about messing all the blocks up (as he does when people ruin his rituals), then he paused, looked at me again (like he was saying, “oh she has made such an effort to do it right, I will let her play”) and he went ahead and put his next block in place.

It was because of Johnny I read a (more modern) book written about autism. As I read it, I was thinking “same as me”, “that’s how I feel”, “OH so auty people can talk TOOO much!!”. I had the experience of relating somewhat to books on bipolar/schizophrenia/depression/eating disorders, etc…… But this autism thing, I didn’t just relate somewhat, it was like reading straight from my private thoughts and feelings. If I had to highlight the relevant parts, I may as well have dunked the book into a bucket of pink ink!

That was when I realised what was going on with me…And that I wasn’t alone. That Johnny and I were alike for a reason, (though so many judge him as being low functioning, because he is more disconnected from the world of people than I am, I do not like the high/low functioning label, as I think it’s a value judgement. If our society was different, and didn’t expect people to all be the same, Johnny would be valued EVEN if he just wants to line up blocks and sit on a hill in the wind in a breeze! He is functioning quite well in his own way, and is a happy person most of the time:-)

I went off to see a Psychologist who specialises in autism, and was diagnosed not long after. Life has been a lot better since. I still have the same brain, but I understand how it works now. I understand more now how NTs work too. I have learnt how to realise what “feelings” are and talk about them when required. And though I still have struggles with feeling disconnected socially/emotionally or frustrated with my neurones at times, I know now that I’m not a lone alien. I still feel like I’m from another planet, but it’s Ok, because there are heaps more of us here, and now I know that, I see them everywhere.

I thank fate/nature/God for introducing me to Johnny….and all of the advocating I do, I do for Johnny! Because he cannot speak for himself, and though I’m not him, I do empathise with him and his mum and dad….and all the other Johnny’s (and Sally’s) and their parents. I feel pretty useless at a lot of things, but words are my thing, and finally my private world, and my words, can actually connect me to people, help others feel less isolated, and likewise, I am less isolated, from meeting so many other great people who have felt this way too.

I decided to choose a memory from my teen years to share with you…
Something so simple to many people…. A school excursion, Something the other kids at school looked forward to.

When I started in year 7 (aged 12), I was a “mature, well-read, little lady”. (So one teacher said in my school report…. Gee I had her fooled) I drifted about school, had a few “friends” (I defined friends as “people who tolerate me”) who I sat near and tried to say the same things as. Outside of school I was a free child….I was more relaxed….I was a lot
happier around older people and my little boy friend from down the road. I didn’t have to pretend to be normal around the people at home. I was accepted as I was.

School was another thing though. Being a female meant I had to hang out with girls at school. There was too much negative attention for talking to boys…people would make it into something romantic, whereas I just wanted to hang out with boys because I found them less judgemental of me. I was one of the few kids at school who were actually there to learn! I liked school and most teachers! (MOST…the others suffered though :)) I would have been a very happy kid if there were no other kids at school…if the teachers were all there just for me! So when other kids liked to get to school to see their friends and looked forward to lunch breaks….I actually only looked forward to classes…and dreaded lunch breaks!

So I wandered about at school for years keeping up a facade of a perfect little robot….(I was never perfect at it though)….I was getting good marks, but I was suffering from anxiety, insomnia, self loathing, loneliness, isolation inside myself….I had no REAL friends. My boy friend from down the road, who had been my bestest buddy in the world since I was 4….. His parents won tatts lotto and they moved away. I had those “friends”, but their company very much replied on me conforming to their ideas and beliefs, so I felt I wasn’t being authentic.

THEN came along Sally! In year 8 Sally arrived at my very nice wholesome catholic school…she had a short skirt and wore makeup and had an ATTITUDE! But…I also noticed in class that she was very bright. She was also absolutely instantly rejected by everyone in the class, male and female, AND many teachers. I don’t know if it was that we were born only two days apart, or that she was outwardly expressing the depression that I was hiding, but I gradually befriended her. She was very untrusting and hesitant at first, but once she realised this little geek was for real, she and I became friends. (She said she was Fonzie and I was Richie Cunningham..I think I’ll a little Potsy and Ralph Malph too)

When Sally appeared, I had finally found someone who was witty and clever and questioning…someone who understood feeling left out or judged. We were quite the odd couple and my other “friends” told me I was to stop associating with her because of how she looked and her reputation. Though our schoolwork was great, teachers started separating us in classes. I think they didn’t want me “tainted” by her, but the truth was, she was actually helping me to speak and be myself. I wasn’t interested in going out and partying or chasing a heap of boys….. Poor Sally had abuse issues and was acting out her own thing. I wasn’t like that, so I didn’t go out with her outside of school. I would visit her house, but not when she had a party.

SO…..Our school excursion was coming up. The teachers announced that the camp would be divided into two groups who would go separately to camp. The teacher read through the list, obviously grouping people with their best friend groups…Except Sally and I. We were put into separate groups. I was put in with my “friends” from the year before who had been excluding me since I was still being a friend of Sally. I had never really looked forward to camps, but this one I was dreading now I was completely isolated. And it was very obvious the staff had gone out of their way to do that.

So first I have to face that horrible thing of getting a seat on the bus. People saying “No this seat is saved”. So I sat near the front…and could hear people speaking about Sally. Saying mean things….I knew she had issues, but what they said was off the mark. And they would say it loudly and would then say my name. I wanted to die. I felt nauseous and spoke to one of the teachers about geology to make myself block out the conversations behind me.

We were then put into groups for our rooms. Of course I was put in with the nasty little girls who the teachers thought “Would be good for me.” I chose a bed and was then told I couldn’t have that one… One of the “boss” girls wanted that one. I was put in the bed on the other side of the room. The girls were sometimes including me in conversation, but half the time I couldn’t tell if they were being mean to me or nice. They would say things about my clothes or hair…and then laugh and if I looked confused, they would say  “No I didn’t mean it bad” and then laugh again. These girls were sweet little Catholic girls…sweet to who THEY decided was “one of them.” The girls all wore heaps of perfume and sprayed deodorant constantly. I would have to hide my head under the blankets, which of course made them say things about me making a big deal out of nothing. (Nausea, headache, brain gone fuzzy…nothing to them maybe!)

Mealtimes were hell. I am still a fussy eater now, but back then I was even worse. I ate butter, not margarine. I didn’t eat fruit or veggies. I didn’t eat pasta. I didn’t eat rice. I didn’t eat anything other than meat and potatoes basically. The thought of having those textures or colours in my mouth made my adrenaline kick in and I’d feel sick and shaky. I knew how to not eat things….just leave them on the (contaminated by vegetables) plate, but sometimes, if the meal was spaghetti for example, I didn’t get to eat at all. Depending on which staff member I asked, some would say  “Too bad You get what your given so eat it” Which of course I wouldn’t. I had a nice teacher who would make me a sandwich if I asked sometimes. Otherwise, I had my secret stash of food in my bag that mum had packed. She knew I would need energy on camp, and she knew that I may not eat if she just trusted the school to feed me. Other kids would sometimes make a big deal about what I ate, or try to make me try things…..Or put other things on my plate to freak me out. There were always comments about me being fussy, like I was precious. But I didn’t want filet mignon! I was happy with a sausage in a piece of bread. I just wanted to eat and have no-one take any notice. I still hate dining out and avoid dinner parties…my friends only invite me if they’re having a BBQ :))

Then came the “camp activities”. Oh how I  hated those activities!!! One was called Ambulance…. Everyone had to jump on each other and hold onto others in a big knot of people…. Then the “paramedics” would try to drag them out one by one. I would just hold someone’s shoe on the edge and let the paramedic pull me out first. That was one competition I had no desire to win!!

Another activity, you had a short straw in your mouth, and had a lifesaver, donut shaped sweet, on it. You had to turn to the person next to you and lean in close and transfer the lifesaver to their straw in their mouth. The NT kids thought it was a riot! I would just drop my lifesaver and be out straight away on purpose. I hated circle activities with nowhere to hide and even just the part at the start when they said we had to hold hands to make the circle.

I DID enjoy one activity. I liked the small group discussions about religion/philosophy, inclusion, etc. The only trouble was, anything I said in the group, and the group may have even been really accepting of it or said it was good, I would get outside, and the next thing, those people in my group had twisted something I had said and the other kids were picking on me about it. So it wasn’t even safe for me to have a real discussion without the bullies wanting to use it against me.

The worst thing was “free time” though. This included a big mud fight once. I was holding someone camera so no one dragged me in, then I ended up holding all of the cameras (and taking the photos, which is actually how I started to become a photographer seriously, I learnt that if you TAKE the photos, you are never in them🙂 AND people don’t push you around if you are holding the cameras, AND if you make sure the photos are good, people will ASK you to do it again!

Other free time activities that I was petrified of were boy/girl pairing off and kissing, etc. I saw how girls were picked on if they said  “No”, but I wanted to say No, but I didn’t want to be called “frigid”, which was the BIG insult, so I made up a fictional boyfriend. SO instead of being called frigid for saying no, I suddenly was being labelled a tart! (And I didn’t even kiss a boy until 4 years after this!)

Off to bedtime and I have to lay and listen to the other girls talk as I go off to sleep. When they think I’m asleep, they proceed to whisper about me and how I don’t eat certain things, what I said, how I didn’t want to kiss the boy, etc. I was crying and dying inside and just wanted to be at home! Sisterhood! Phooey! Not if you’re not a full blood sister apparently!
This was the last school camp I went on. They allowed Sally on one camp with me…where there was no choice, so I went to that one. And even enjoyed a lot of it. There were still those same moments…..People are people. There were still bitchy comments occasionally, and awkward moments for me when I had to hide for a while, BUT when I had Sally there, half my anxiety was gone, because I wasn’t alone. Alone we are far more vulnerable to bullies. And bullying isn’t always obvious…Especially with girls. They can be amazingly evil with just a look or using they’re networking skills…. I wished I’d gone to a boys school, but I know they wouldn’t let me in🙂

(Sally Update: Sally is now a lawyer and high up in law enforcement. She is far more successful, together, happy and wholesome than those who judged her…Once she was an adult, and got past her abuse, she did well. The others, once they got out of school, started wearing mini skirts and lots of makeup🙂

Tad Auty

Do you have a comment or question for Tad? Do you wish to find out more about this  amazing woman, mother, Photographer, advocate, & writer? Feel free to leave any comments or messages for Tad and we will make sure she gets them.

8 Responses to “Tad Auty.. A school excursion.”

  1. Karen September 8, 2010 at 4:09 pm #

    Wow. That is Stephen McCullough at LLCN. He has ASpergers. He can be a good researcher, but lacks relationships with people. Thank you for teaching me somethhing. I didn’t understand his aloofness and poor social skills.

  2. Tad Auty September 5, 2010 at 10:24 am #

    @mumtol…..thanks to you!! I wouldnt do this unless people said it spoke to them and made them feel better/more able. I want to be a bit of a voice for those who do not sound like a boring character out of a textbook. Whenever I do public speaking, parents say that they like how what I say sounds like I know their children (or Im like their children). Many “experts” can make it sound a little boring, sad, twodimensional. As you said about your son, we can be amazing! In our different special own ways🙂

  3. Tad Auty September 5, 2010 at 10:20 am #

    @fightingformmychildren… Im just figuring out this blog world🙂 But I will be happy to get in touch. If you have fb, contact me Tad Auty ( pic of a crocodile in water)

  4. Tad Auty September 5, 2010 at 10:17 am #

    @Mandy….Im so glad if something “rang a bell” for you….I am especially happy to hear you are going to use it as something to bring up discussing things with your son. Sometimes we cant put things into words ourselves, ESPECIALLY about feelings, so if you can say “Do you feel like this too?” it can help us say “yeah I do, but i didnt know how to explain it or bring it up”. My best friends in life have helped me by saying “do u feel like this? or like this? like this?, etc…Until I say “YEAH!! thats the one!!” And they can then sometimes explain what thats about, and how to process it or get past it, etc.

  5. amanda neal September 5, 2010 at 7:16 am #

    thanks tad for sharing . i really enjoyed reading this. its made me think a lot actually. being a mum to an 8 yr old aspie whom i try to treat as “normal” as possible its made me question some of the things i do which i think he actually enjoys. im going to have a sit down and big talk with my son after reading this. many thanks. mandy.

  6. fighting for my children September 5, 2010 at 4:47 am #

    I really enjoyed the guest post. Please give Tad the link to my blog and ask her if she would like to follow my blog. I would also like to follow her blog as I feel I could learn a lot about how my kids feel and why they do things from her.

  7. mumtoj September 5, 2010 at 2:57 am #

    I’ve just finished reading this post and all I can think right now is WOW what an amazing person you are. I feel humbled by you just as I usually do by my son. x


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