Autism and Education

There has been a big debate about education for autistic children in the UK recently. Lots of parents feel like the education system is unable to look at their children’s needs and allow the parents to decide whether their child needs to be in special needs education or mainstream education. As an autistic person still in the education system of Great Britain I feel that it is important from me to add my two penny piece to the discussion.

Primary school was okay, as my needs were a lot greater than they are now. I had a lot more difficulties with socialising with my peers than I do now and I really did struggle in the academic environment of a mainstream school. I remember being transferred to a mainstream primary school at the age of seven, and I only lasted two terms because the teachers were not trained in how to deal with my anger issues or how to engage me in the classroom. This is where the special needs education system really shone to me in my life, as it made me feel more confident to pursue my dreams and ideas, and I remember leaving primary school feeling excited about the next stage of education and learning.

However, the special needs secondary school I that was then transfer to was awful. I was put in with students who were very much less able than me and was expected to be at that same intelligence level. When I completed the very basic work that we were set, and I asked the something a little bit harder something that would actually test me, they were unable to give me the work that I asked for. I actually started feeling very stupid because I was talked to as if I was stupid. I was treated like somebody who wasn’t intelligent, someone who wasn’t passionate about learning and education and wanting to better myself, like someone who didn’t have dreams and someone who couldn’t achieve. I started hating going to school, the bullying was rife, because I try to read harder books than the other kids, because I tried to beg students from the local comprehensive school next door to give me copies of their homework as they walked past the gates. I longed for history lessons that didn’t involve colouring pages, English lessons that didn’t involves cross words or word searches and maths classes with real textbooks, just like the ones I saw the children in the mainstream school carrying into school.

Not only this, I went to school in fear. We had a kid in our class who had severe ADHD, severe anger problems, which caused him to become violent at the drop of a hat. Every lesson involved being evacuated from our classroom, as if it were a war zone because he got an angry and started throwing things, chairs, tables, books. There was one time when he could beat me up, because the teacher had left us alone in a classroom, and I’d accidentally said something angered him, to the point where he was about to slam a table into my back, and potentially kill me. If a friend hadn’t gone to get the teacher (who had gone into the staffroom to get a cup of tea), I wouldn’t be here now talking to you. I was lucky, that my foster mum managed to get me out, got me into that school where I would never have to beg the kids for homework. I got high grades in my GCSEs and was lucky that I got into a good college are now into the good University, where I get a lot of support from my autism and other conditions which have since been diagnosed with.

The special needs system is excellent in this country for those with severe learning difficulties, and severe autism. For the brighter kids, the kids that dream, the ones that you yearn to have just as good an education as their mainstream counterparts, however a lot needs to be done. It is hard to come to a middle ground, simply because every autistic person is completely different, there is no such thing as too autistic people who are completely alike. Even if the more able students were put together and actually taught to the curriculum, and the less able students being kept together and being taught the things that they need to learn, that would probably make secondary special needs education a lot better. All you need is common sense, and a gut feeling to make sure that your autistic child gets the education they deserve, because they do, deserve the best education they can get regardless of their ability.

(Please note that this was my personal experience of the special needs education system. There are some wonderful schools out there that cater excellently to the needs of autistic students, my friends and I were just highly unfortunate with the provision in my area.)

Link

Two Steps Forward – eBook for National Autistic Society

Two Steps Forward – eBook for National Autistic Society

So, for my Creative Project at university, me and a few other students got together to write a short anthology of stories and poems about the issues that people with autism/Asperger’s Syndrome face on a regular basis. All money raised will be going to The National Autistic Society, a wonderful group that raises awareness of these disabilities in the United Kingdom, as well as giving support to those affected by the disabilities, as well as friends, family, partners and professionals.

Please check this out, and maybe even purchase it?

I’m very proud of the two flash fiction pieces I included in the anthology, although I was gutted that I wasn’t able to add more to it. Thanks to my fellow authors for helping make this happen, and thank you, especially if you purchase the book, and leave a cheeky review behind for feedback.

Popping the Clubbing Cherry

I went clubbing last Friday night. I know, weird, huh? 

I went, because of the fact that I know that I need to try new things before I decide whether I dislike it or not, like trying new foods or listening to new music before I come to a judgement. This is how I know that I don’t like marrow, and dislike rap and RnB music. I now know also that I actually am mad about tuna mayo on a jacket potato, and actually like a bit of ska and mod (I blame my father in law for that one). So, I knew that people said good things, and because one of the girls in the halls I’m in is a promoter of a club, I knew I would get on the guest list, and should be perfectly safe…

It was fine at first, as I went earlier, whilst it was dead, to get a feel of the place. Then people started filling the place. I’m not claustrophobic of agoraphobic, but I could feel a sense of dread as I sipped my fake Malibu and lemonade (which was gross, by the way). I disliked the fact that people would just barge through without saying ‘excuse me’, men would be more than happy to have a feel of my bottom, and when a fight broke out, a bouncer tore past me, smacked me in the face and sent me flying into a group of girls who looked less than impressed to have a panicked autistic girl practically thrown into their laps.

Therefore, I have decided that clubbing is not for me, especially as I had two big panic attacks, which I haven’t had since I was at secondary school. I won’t get that night back, which sucks, but at least I know now that clubbing isn’t nice. Which begs the question, so many people with AS I know want to be able to go clubbing, but are unable to because of the loud music, bright lights, crowdedness, smoke, physical contact and unpredictability, and nowhere to go if they are feeling stressed.

So, I recon clubs should be able to do at least one AS friendly event a month, with a suitable environment for people to enjoy, with a reduced volume of music, rooms for people to ‘time out’ in, carers go free, dimmer lights, no smoke machines and a system where someone wears a wristband to state if they are happy to be approached by strangers or not, like a green one if they are cool with it, and red if not. Bouncers and staff in the club would also be trained in AS and how to cope with panic attacks and sensory overload in a sensitive manner.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  You can see the money in it, come on! Cinemas already have AS friendly screenings, and sometimes West End shows will put on AS friendly versions of productions. So why not in bars and clubs?

Party Survival Tips for AS Folk!

So, I’ve been really busy the past week, with so much going on. But last night was crazy, because of the annual Snow Ball (see what they did there, to keep things nice and secular). We all dressed up and even went into town to get our makeup done by the lovely ladies in Boots on the makeup stands. Then after some sort of pre-drinks party thingy, we all set off.

So, don’t get me wrong, I do love having a great time with my close friends. But parties are just a big struggle for me. This is when I really suffer with sensory overload, and also struggle with social etiquette. I know lots of people with AS struggle with this too, so I thought I would spend a bit of time quickly writing a post about party survival this festive season (and the rest of the year).

1) Pack your bag properly.

I have the usual things in the handbag I take to a social event, like my wallet, lipstick, mirror, phone, ID, keys to my room. But I also pack according to what kind of party I’m going to. So, for example, if I’m going to the Student Union where I know it’s going to be very loud, I pack my earplugs to help muffle the sound levels slightly. If lights are an issue (being too bright) I’ll pack some sunglasses.

2) Have signals/code words

I tend to feel awkward the most when someone I hardly know comes up to me, and starts getting all in my space and touchy feely. I also feel uncomfortable if I’ve had a bit much to drink, or if the music is too loud even with earplugs in, or I’m just feeling overwhelmed. So me and my two best friends have come up with clear hand gestures and phrases that I can say to them in a party situation to let them know I need a time out. They use them too with everyone now in our circle of friends, so it’s really useful, as I can just tap my elbow and have them come up with a socially acceptable excuse to usher me out into the fresh air.

3) Try to keep towards the edges

It’s best to stay out of the crowd, especially if you dislike being in one (that’s common sense, really). But being at the edges helps if you do need to make a quick getaway, as I’ve tried to escape from a big crowd before, and it isn’t pleasant.

4) Stand Up for Yourself!

Don’t let someone persuade you into doing something that isn’t comfortable. For example, I had a friend who dragged me into the crowds, and onto the stage which was full of loud drunk people, and made me dance whilst a guy grabbed my hands and kept spinning me. I didn’t want to say ‘no’ because I didn’t want to look like a party pooper, even though I was cowering in pain next to the speakers, but I do regret standing up for myself. It’s not fun having to say ‘no, I’m sorry, but that makes me feel uncomfortable’, but it is better than being in agony. Or, if they properly grab you, try and lose them in the crowd, and slink back to friends who will look out for you.

5) Don’t Push yourself

If you’ve had enough, you’ve had enough. Just make sure you have a friend to walk with you, it’s never fun trying to get home whilst overloaded on your own.

I hope that helps a little bit. I know it might not always be the best advice, but these are just a few things I’ve learned on the way.

So, Here it Is!

So, this is the very first chapter of my new writing adventure, posted on here for your feedback, so I can add to it and make it better, as I prefer to edit as I go along rather than once I have the final manuscript in front of me. So, go ahead, tell me what you think. In the meantime, enjoy!

 

 

Chapter One

So, let’s just say that today is one of my bright days. I have bright days, an I have dark days, just like everyone else, except I know what day is which, whilst others don’t really pay much attention to them, almost taking them for granted.  It’s definably one of those days when my imagination is like a rainbow explosion, almost like in a paint factory, like the one my mother used to say to me when I had my post it notes every where when I was seven. It’s almost the feeling that everything I see is inspiration for the next story. I can see it in my head, I can almost feel it becoming words onto the page. It’s like magic, if that even existed….

 

Arthur carefully shut the door to his bedroom. He slung his bag onto the floor and tossed his jacket on his bed. His mind was whirring, a regular occurrence, as he dumped himself into his desk chair and lifted the lid to his laptop. As he waited for it to load, he grabbed hold of a battered old notebook and a packet of frazzles, opening them thoughtfully as he watched the software load up. Arthur popped a frazzle in his mouth and sucked it, letting the bacon flavoured maize snack turn into mush as he pondered. The word processer was finally opened onto a blank new word document, the cursor flashing cheerfully onto the white blank page. He stared at it thoughtfully, and added the title, ‘chapter one’.

 

Then he stopped.

 

As usual, the dreaded Blank Page Syndrome. His mind was drawn to a complete and utter stop. This always happened, always stopped him right on his tracks. It annoyed him, it was the worst feeling in the entire world. Arthur took a deep breath, and looked into his notebook, and then smiled with relief. Thank goodness for pre planning on the bus home from college, he thought to himself as he began to type.

 

As he typed, he didn’t notice footsteps going towards the stairs for dinner, or the shouts that his meal was on the table and that it was getting cold. He didn’t notice that the night was getting longer, and that the house was growing ever quiet. He carried on, and ignored the fact that his stomach was beginning to rumble, or that his eyes were slowly beginning to droop. There wasn’t any idea in his mind about the fact that the sun was slowly rising up in his bedroom window, or that his door had knocked, telling him to knock it off and actually go to bed. He was writing, and was in an entire world of his own. It was simply him, and the fantasy within him, it was just him and the now filling up pages.

 

The alarm bleeped at seven o clock the next morning. Arthur had stayed up the entire night writing. Well, he’d knocked at least five chapters of his latest fantasy novel out onto his first draft, which was pretty good. He rubbed his eyes and yawned. Suddenly, his stomach rumbled and he sighed.

 

Arthur stripped, changing his boxer shorts and socks, before opening the wardrobe door, staring into the racks of neatly hung up clothes. The t shirts, the shirts, the trousers, the jeans, the shorts,  the jumpers, the jackets , were all organised into neat sections, and the shoes, sneakers and trainers were sat at the bottom in a neat line in rainbow order. The clothes were organised in the exact same way, and even then were organised into sub categories, such as long sleeved and short sleeved, quarter length and full length. Even the different shorts styles were organised in regimental format. He looked outside, and decided that it looked rather bleak, a bit cold. Very cold, almost like ice, freezing even just by looking through the window. Oh, must note that down, he thought to himself as he grabbed his notebook and scribbled it in with a slightly immature scrawl. After that, he turned back to the wardrobe, and picked out a pair of blue jeans, a white and blue checked shirt with long sleeves and a black sweater. He then slipped the battered black sneakers that were right at the end of the footwear line up, and grabbed his college bag and coat, before heading downstairs for tea and toast.

 

Sue, the carer, looked at him with bleary eyes as he trampled down the stairs, pen tucked behind his ear, the battered notebook tucked into his pocket, peeking out ever so slightly.

 

“You do realise that you kept me up all night Arthur?”

 

“I did? I’m so sorry.”

 

“You say that every time. And last night you disturbed Shawn and Rachel with the loud music you were playing, and I do believe the neighbours actually knocked on the door to get you to be quiet, and ended up having a shouting match with me!”

 

“So, what’s the big deal?” Arthur sighed, rolling his eyes. It was going to be a dark day today, he knew it. It just wasn’t fair, everyone was constantly yelling at him to conform, to be normal, not to be ‘selfish’ or ‘rude’, but to be ‘empathetic’ and ‘thoughtful towards others’. It wasn’t like other people were like that to him, he’d even looked up empathy in the dictionary, and that meant understanding and relating to how other people feel in various situations. But why should he empathise with others when others didn’t empathise with him? How very hypocritical of the world, he thought to himself ruefully.

 

“The big deal is, Arthur, is that Shawn had to leave for a trip that left at six o clock this morning, so needed to be able to be out by half four, and that Rachel has her dance exam today, so needed decent sleep so that she could perform to the best that she can. You have to think of other people, I don’t care that you had to get how ever many chapters written, or that it had to be an even number on the blinking word count before you could stop, but you have to think of other people, you don’t live alone, and, at this rate, you never will. How you’ll survive in September I’ll hardly know…”

 

Arthur shrugged, this would probably blow over, and he’d come home from college at four o clock exactly, and that she’d of made him macaroni cheese like she always did on a Thursday, and would smile at him and devote her whole attention to him whilst he talked about his day, like this whole conflict had never happened in the first place. But he still knew it was going to be a dark day, he’d had at least three bright days this week, which was actually rather unusual,  so he had it coming whether he liked it or not.

 

And the day was only just getting started.

I’m Finally Writing!

So, after work today, I randomly sat down and wrote out a good 483 words of a chapter that may end up becoming my next novel. I mean, I wrote a novel when I was seventeen, and that took a good solid three months to do, that was literally sitting down after college and writing a chapter a night, which I may do with this new book. It means I can focus on my coursework without worry during the day, and then write in the evenings, before I go to bed. If anything does pop into mind I can always scribble it down in my notebook. 

I’m writing about an autistic college student. Because I am an autistic college student. I’ll be writing about how he survives from day to day, as a writer and a person. He’s actually my male alter ego, as I was diagnosed with autism at the age of three years old, not long before being put into foster care by a mother who couldn’t cope. So I’m putting Arthur in that situation. Will he get into university? Will he find the girl of his dreams? Will he ever get to be fully independent? Before everything goes a bit pear shaped?

Who knows?

I’m considering naming the novel ‘Arthur’ although as I pop chapters on here (hopefully this chapter that I’ve started will be up by tomorrow afternoon) I hope you guys might help me find a better title.

So, goodbye for now!

HJ