I suppose I need to have a bit of sympathy for them, because as I’ve discovered myself, autistic girls are a completely different kettle of fish compared to autistic boys. I should know, since I’ve got the set! But whilst there are obvious similarities, my son and daughter are very different in their ASD behaviours.
The fact is, autistic girls are far more adept at masking their condition than ASD boys. They’re better at fitting in socially, better at mimicking typical behaviours and better at appearing to be living a ‘normal’ school life.
But all of this is an illusion. They’re struggling and bewildered, and paying a big person price in their efforts not to stand out from the crowd. And one of the worst parts for ASD girls – it all too often goes undetected and leads to big problems as they progress through school and beyond.
That’s exactly what happened, and what’s happening now to my daughter. Some quirky, mildly obsessive habits as a little girl, but really nothing to make us worry, when compared to her autistic brother. But after her transition to high school – boom! That was the trigger to make her hidden difficulties come to the surface, and it’s been a horrendous struggle ever since.
The big change in routine when changing schools, seemed to be a trauma too far for her. New subjects, new friends, new teacher, new everything! If you know anything about ASD kids, you’ll know that ‘new’ is like their kryptonite! They hate it. She couldn’t cope and it showed. Then the trouble began.
Pretty soon the bad reports and detentions began flowing in. Disruptive, bunking off classes, cheeky, aggressive and uncooperative, missing homework and deadlines, and much more. Her grades took a nosedive and kept going that way. Down and down until something had to be done. That’s where the fun at school started!
It became immediately obvious that the school only had one strategy when they encountered a ‘difficult’ pupil – discipline! Punishment and keep punishing. No matter what the situation, ignore the ASD diagnosis and interpret the behaviour as a naughty one. Punish it and make them conform – that seemed to be their answer to everything.
So this is where I have to admit to a little sympathy for them, because surprising as it may seem, they had never encountered one like my daughter, not even the SENCO. They had experience of autistic children being withdrawn, uncommunicative and sullen. But they didn’t know what to do with one who was aggressive, confrontational, quick-witted and sarky!
After almost a year of this and we’re finally beginning to get somewhere at school, but it hasn’t been easy. It’s been a real battle to change their perceptions of my daughter’s behaviour, so that she’s no longer viewed as a pest, but as an autistic child who needs to be handled with sensitivity. It won’t be easy, because it isn’t going to stop. But if their understanding of what’s driving her behaviour can change, she may actually achieve something at school, which is all I really want for her.
I hope this story strikes a chord with other parents of ASD children out there. All the effort and care you put into your child’s school career is worth it! They really can achieve great things. It’s true you’re going to have to be ten times more involved than other parents need to be, but you undoubtedly already have been. All I want to tell you is, it pays off for them in the end.