Chapter two of Matty’s story focuses on his time at middle school, and his struggle to be understood and accepted as a young boy with undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome. Once again, Matty’s candid description of his struggles at school is a real eye-opener, and reminded me just how important autism awareness (and autism specific support) really is. When reading this, there were times when I could quite happily have punched his teachers for being so callous, and times when Matty’s experiences and my own seemed eerily similar. If you haven’t done so already, I urge you to read chapter one (the previous article on the Seeing Double blog). Now for chapter two of Matty’s story…
I started middle school feeling both anxious and excited. Above all, I hoped for a better experience than the one I’d had with my teachers and peers in primary school. However, I was still very nervous around my peers.
I liked playing football at home, but if I tried to play it at school my legs would turn to jelly whenever I got the ball and I could not handle the cries of laughter and ostracising from the other kids. I never understood the topics other children brought up in conversations.
I don’t blame my parents, but growing up; we lived on a council estate, had very little money and went on few vacations. Many children had this upbringing, yet it still factored in to my perception of other kids having everything I didn’t. My best friend L seemed to have everything, and I won’t deny that I sometimes felt bitter towards him and my neurotypical classmates.
I continued to struggle with making friends. In year 5 I still cried a lot and had almost no confidence in Physical Education, as I didn’t work well as part of a group and had poor balance and dexterity. I was scared one of my PE teachers would ask me to do something in front of the class, when I couldn’t even put my bib on properly! I soon started making excuses to get out of doing PE. During parents evening, my teacher told my parents that I need to grow up. At Sports Day I refused to take part in any events. I was terrified of failing while the whole school was watching and having them all point and laugh at me. I said I was too ill to take part, and started kicking and screaming when I was told I had to. In the end, the teachers allowed me to stay in a room on my own.
The worst experience I had in year 5 was swimming. I struggled with getting dressed and undressed, and was terrified of the water. I daren’t jump in the pool. When we all lined up to do so, it felt like death row. I’d stand on the edge, crying and begging the teachers not to force me to go in. The swimming teacher pulled me to the side, and said: ‘I have no sympathy, do you know why?’ With tears in my eyes, I shook my head. ‘I’ve been informed that you are a bully’. Two children who’d been in my class since reception were disabled, and often made fun of me in order to mask their own insecurities. My attempts to get along with them were misinterpreted as bullying. To this day, I still have no idea why. I sat on the side of the pool and refused to take part in the swimming lesson.
However, I did like my PE teacher. She once brought along her son to help me in the water, due not me not being able to swim. I enjoyed this, as it was nice to feel looked after. Perhaps I came across as an attention seeker in school due to my continuous need for support. When I looked around me, every other child was smiling enthusiastically and seemed to enjoy taking part at school. I couldn’t keep up. The games, the activities, the jokes… everything was far too fast for me to process.
In year 6 I realised I could multiply numbers in my head quite quickly. This became a hobby, and I was very good at it. I enjoyed Maths, but felt jealous of the other students because I wasn’t in a higher set. I was in set 6, the lowest. I would yell out the answers really fast, not giving the other children time to answer. Eventually, my teacher took me to one side, informing me that I wasn’t the best at Maths and I was being very rude. I got sent to the school psychologist to find out why I was misbehaving. After this, I was given more opportunities. I moved up to set 5 in Maths and English and finally started to feel enthusiastic about school. Ultimately, my social skills, trouble with everyday tasks and emotional fragility would defeat me at this early stage of my life. It all started with a girl.
Everyone remembers their first crush. This was one area where I actually matured early instead of being left behind, as I found a girl physically attractive at a very young age. However, I couldn’t control my emotions. I didn’t understand the concept of personal space and would often stand far too close to the girl I liked, upsetting her. The concept of a girl not liking me back was mind-blowing. I’d always believed that love was a two-way system. If I had the feelings for someone, then they ought to like me back. It’s only fair, right? It wasn’t until my late teens that I realised two people have to have mutual, reciprocated feelings for each other in order for a relationship to develop. My lateness understanding this set me apart from everyone else. I did not have the social skills to interact with this girl, so I just tried to force myself on her. Kissing, cuddling and holding hands were not in my vocabulary.
Choosing a nearby high school on a rough estate was a big mistake for me. I was no longer at the same school as my best friend L, and felt lost and friendless without him. L had stuck up for me all those times when the bullying became unbearable. Once, his parents visited my parents to voice concern about the amount of responsibility L had for me at school. (In the end, they accepted that I would probably always have an attachment to L).
Things got worse as I got older. But ironically, I now look back on my time at school with a great deal of nostalgia, wishing I’d got more enjoyment out of being a teenager and having no real responsibilities. I had difficulties at home as well as school, however, I was under nowhere near as much stress at home. I lived a sheltered life, with my mum doing almost everything for me. I often wish she’d forced me to do more for myself, as that would have given me more opportunities to grow and develop. However, my Mum had her own issues, and it was easy for us to rely too much on each other.
The next part of my story will focus on my time at high school and college. I hope you have found the first two chapters interesting, and thanks Gwen for letting me post this.