I’ve never written much about my children, because I firmly believe that their story is theirs to tell, not mine. But what’s been happening in the last few weeks directly relates to me and my story, it’s especially relevant.
Quinn, my eldest, who is 8, was struggling hugely at school. His teacher was off sick and had been for a while. He was having a supply teacher, who he only describes as ‘VERY TALL’, in an ominous voice. She must really be tall, Michelle is nearly 6 feet tall so it’s not like he’s not used to tall women. Or maybe it’s because, when you’re anxious everyone seems to loom over you and oppress you.
Quinn’s Headteacher has taken his class a few times, which Quinn likes, because he’s the kind of man who adds a corny joke in every third or fourth line, which appeals to Quinn’s sense of humour. He also has another class teacher standing in, who has kind of become a rock to Quinn as she represents the only piece of stability he has at school at the moment.
School had Ofsted inspections in last week, which obviously made the teachers anxious, which probably fed into Quinn’s anxious state. It also didn’t help that no matter how much we tried to change his mind, he remained convinced that they were there to inspect him, not the school.
School was also off-timetable because it’s Christmas. That time of year which absolutely screws up Autistic children and adults. Houses turn into some deranged Madman’s idea of Santa’s grotto, with Christmas scenes outside made up of a million high powered searchlights, searing into your eyeballs and your soul. The music blares everywhere you go, the same songs on repeat jabbing into your ears, your skull.
Tinsel. Evil, evil tinsel. It glints and winks at you, sparkling in a merrily Christmassy way that can’t help but catch your eye, hypnotise you with its twitch inducing, irritating twinkling. Then some evil entity wraps it round you for a ‘joke’, where it scratches and scrapes at your skin and feels like it’s throttling you.
Our house is always little threadbare on decorations beyond a tree.
Every year though I do hang up some Mistletoe, which I keep, with my manly, handsomeness, trying to lure Michelle to stand under, but I always end up with Olivia somehow.
Chocolate and milk breath kisses from a four year old.
Sorry, I got sidetracked on the horrors of Christmas. It’s pretty overwhelming.
School have been brilliant and supportive as ever, they listen to us, work with us and, more importantly, listen and work with Quinn to make changes to support him as best they can, but it’s still affecting him negatively and hugely.
Basically he’s all over the place. One morning he had a huge meltdown and ran to his room, slamming his bedroom door.
Immediately there was a crash.
I went running.
I opened the door and there he was in a crumpled heap on the floor.
As he’d slammed his door, his whiteboard (where we write his timetable for the next day and Quinn draws), had fallen off of the wall and landed on him.
Physically, he was fine, but the look on his face utterly destroyed me. His eyes were dull and raw and wet, with huge bags under them, his lip was actually trembling. His world was crumbling around him.
The teacher he worships was gone, along with the safety and comfort she brings.
His routine was all messed up. Routines are part of what keep us Autistic people safe. They are our comfort and our safety net. We cling to them and they help keep us together, because they don’t change. Change is hard to process. Change involves reassessing situations and scripts, people and places. Change brings us uncertainty, uncertainty brings anxiety and, oh dear me are we anxious creatures.
In that split second between seeing him lying there and picking the whiteboard off him, what he was going through hit me with a Flashback. I’ve blocked out a lot of my time at school, mostly due to the constant sensory overwhelm, being surrounded by people i struggled to relate to, the bullying, the isolation, and having to learn in what, to me, was a poisonous environment. I look back at school and beyond certain standout moments there is nothing but black. I look into my mind and most of my school is locked behind the door I described in ‘The Inside of Autism‘.
This Flashback hit me pretty hard. I actually physically staggered and fell to my knees as I knelt to lift the board off of him. The door in my mind, the door that holds my darkest thoughts and memories, exploded open and overwhelmed me with over an hours worth of memory in a split second:
I haven’t done my homework.
I got distracted last night, I was supposed to read a chapter of a book and write a book report, but I read the whole book and then I had to go to bed.
I knew I needed to write the report, I tried to tell Mum, but the words were locked in my head. All I could do was comply and quietly nod and agree with Mum when she asked me to clean my teeth and get into bed.
So I did, I lay there, eyes wide open for hours, wanting to wait until Mum had gone to bed so i could get up and write it.
It got later and longer and longer and later and I must have fallen asleep.
I wake up and already, inwardly I’m panicking, screaming and shouting inside my skull.
I try to follow my routine quicker so I’ll have time to write it, but i start forgetting things and have to keep going back. I forgot my sock three times and ended up stuck in a causal loop, staring into space, swaying gently.
My Mum shouts at me again and again and inside, like pushing myself out of thick mud, I feel myself rise to the surface enough to shout “Coming!”
It comes out wrong though, it sounds rude and angry and I didn’t mean it to sound that way.
Mum is cross, she’s shouting at me, my Dad is lunging up the stars ready to smack me and I’m sat on the bed in my trousers, rocking harder and harder, one sock half hanging off my foot, no shirt.
I haven’t done my homework.
My brain seizes up and i explode.
Screaming and crying, just an explosion of noise and outpouring of pain and frustration and it goes on.
My Dad dresses me roughly as I’m still screaming and carries me out to his van. I quieten during the three minute drive to school.
We pull up outside. We’re late.
I haven’t done my homework.
Inside, a version of me is screaming to be let out.
Outside, the Mask comes down.
I turn to my Father and ask “Do I look like I’ve been crying?”
Quinn attends a Junior school (For some reason where I live all the Primary Schools are split into Infants and Juniors) which has roughly 250 children attending it.
His school have been brilliant, we’ve been in to talk to them on numerous occasions by invitation, they listen to us, they make adaptations and allowances for him. They went out of their way to support him and us, pre-Diagnosis and post. Unlike other local schools who refuse to acknowledge that any support is needed until the piece of paper with the word ‘AUTISM’ written on it is dangled in front of them. Even then, their support is minimal.
His school will be the first to admit if they’ve made a mistake or an accommodation is needed. The staff are only human and are constantly accosted by 30 children for 8 hours a day. Finding the time to provide one to one support to a child when there are 30 children in the classroom is difficult. One child always pays, Autistic or not. But his current class teacher has been amazing. She wants to listen to us, she wants to listen to Quinn, she lets him lead her.
It’s only very recently, during the run up to this Christmas, that they’ve finally started to see elements of Quinn that they’ve never seen before. It’s never been more obvious in a school setting. Tears, picking at his nails till they bleed, sucking on his shirt until it’s soaked, punching someone.
Like I said earlier, his teacher is off sick, that’s really not helping. So there have been a few days where I’ve gone into school during school time, just to give him a bit of reassurance, there have been a few days where we’ve kept him off, when it’s become too much for him and school have totally been on board with that.
I on the other hand, had no such support. I crammed everything down so deep inside myself. I suppressed and suppressed and suppressed.
My Primary school (Infant and Juniors) had around 450 children in it.
You can imagine the noise.
Before you’ve even entered the classroom, you have to face the cloakroom; a cacophony of screams and shouts, stomping and elbowing, pushing and pulling and shoving, battered and bruised from the multitude of touching before you’ve even managed to get your coat off.
Trying hard to hang a heavy bag on a hook that’s full with a coat and PE kit. School Uniform making you itch and writhe from the sheer uncomfortableness of it.
Exhausted already from the sensory overload.
The day hasn’t even started yet.
I stay at my peg and allow the children to leap and jump and run and bounce out of the cloakroom.
The noise gradually fading as the door gradually and eventually stutters shut. They’re big heavy doors and when they shut, the noise is cut off.
I relish the silence of the room.
I stay there, burying my face into the woollen lining of my coat and I shut my eyes, savouring the soft texture on my face, the warmth, the silence outside my head, my ears are still ringing inside though.
My hands root around inside my coat until they eventually find the care-label.
I rub it between my forefinger, middle finger and thumb, slowly, firmly, repetitively. The pleasure moves from my fingers up my arm, a light glow travels around the exterior of my body, like I’m the Ready-Brek man.
I’m Stimming, self-soothing, I just don’t know it yet.
The door opens, I’m called.
The Mask comes down.
I’m 7 years old and the day hasn’t even begun.
Primary school is softer than senior school. You spend a year with one teacher, sometimes two years. So changes are minimal, beyond day to day timetable disruptions. Your teacher has more opportunity to get to know you than most, but still do they really know you?
If you’re Masking spectacularly they haven’t got much of a chance, but still the tell-tale signs must have been there:
The playtime isolation followed by the hanging back in the cloakroom after break and lunch, then the shutdown after being dragged in from the cloakroom, an hour of aftershock and my total silence after the overwhelm of outside. Staring into space, sub-consciously half listening so when the inevitable happens and my name is called to answer a question, i can clamour for an answer to appease the Teacher.
The drawn-out indecision when given choices, moments that turn to seconds, that turn to to minutes of “Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, I don’t know, what were the choices again?”
They must have noticed the moments of sheer genius bursting through, elation at exploding into a topic of interest, then the realisation, the physical, bodily shrinkage, the moment muted.
How could they not see the constant movement, the knees jigging under the table, the hand constantly stuck up inside my shirt seeking the repetitive comfort of stroking the soft, silky tag.
Did nobody spy the flash of horror across my face when I was asked to pair up, the eyes and head darting around the room as I was frozen, watching other people naturally pick each other without uttering a word, or argument.
Could they not spot the hesitation and hanging back before entering the hall, or having to be told the same thing three or four times before it sunk in.
Why didn’t they notice I only took things literally?
I need to go to the toilet.
I never go to the toilet at school.
I have to raise my hand and ask, then everyone will know, they’ll know what I’m doing, they’ll be thinking about me peeing, seeing it play out in their heads like i see it in mine now.
They’ll hear me, as I hear them: the urine hitting the toilet water, a waterfall of amber boiling in the bowl. The toilets are between two classes, they all hear me, the noise will roar around the classroom, the flush that follows, the creak of the stall door, the tap running, the hand towel machine cranking.
Oh God, the hand towel – perpetually damp, cold, rough it makes me shudder thinking about its touch, almost as bad as a Human’s touch on me. The nape of my neck contracting at the thought.
They’ll watch me. They’ll watch me stand up and walk to the toilet, knowing where I’m going, what I’m doing.
They’ll be waiting, waiting for me to come out, watching the seconds pass as i struggle to go, ever more aware of them waiting and listening, even more unable to go, waiting longer, even more unable to go, the cycle going on and on.
I’m desperate, I’m bursting, I HAVE to go.
But I can’t.
Not because all of those things.
But because the Teacher told us we couldn’t. Too many using it as an excuse to get out of work. Messing around in the toilets. You should have gone before school.
All children must wait till break-time to use the toilet.
You have to wait till break-time.
You have to wait till break-time.
You have to wait till break time.
You have to wait till break-time.
The warmth. The release. The pressure dissipating.
It won’t stop coming, the warmth turns to wet. The realisation hits, the puddle expanding round the chair, my trousers soaked.
The first snigger. A gasp. A rising cacophony. A mantra. From one voice, to five, to a thousand, a crowd roaring “Kieran’s peed himself! Kieran’s wet himself!”
A fleeting moment. A game of scream an endless scream or suppress.
I shove it down, I withdraw, I shutdown. My voice recedes, my voice is gone.
A zombie I’m led away, cleaned up.
I’m given new pants and trousers and shoes.
They aren’t mine.
They scratch and itch. They are too tight and pinch my waist. They aren’t even the right colour.
I’m thrust back into the classroom again. Sat on a cleaned chair, the carpet beneath it damp and dark in a perfect circle, a boundary of shame.
Surrounded by weapons. Other children.
Waiting to take me through it again and again and again. With their laughs and their words and their fists.
They’ll have to wait till break-time.
I am 7 years old.
School is exhausting for an Autistic person. I find it ironic when parents complain that their children don’t want to go to after-school clubs, or social groups. Who are scared that their children are isolated and don’t go out to play.
If an Autistic child goes to a mainstream school in the UK they are there for around 8 hours a day. They are socialising for 40 hours a week. That’s 1440 hours a year. They are socialising for 16% of the year, just at school, bear in mind that 41.6% of the year on average is sleeping, that you as an adult on average spend 4% of your year socialising on Social Media.
We are constantly socialising and communicating, just not in the same way you are. Talking online is us socialising, being at school talking to other children, to teachers is socialising, in the same way you go to work and talk to people – socialising with them. There becomes this fixated idea that socialising means playing in a societally normal way, or that you need to be standing in a bar with a drink in your hand. Socialising is communicating with others, be they humans, animals, be it in public, or online.
It’s interesting, when you look at the definitions of what socialising actually means:
It seems point one and point two above have become mixed and confused. We’ve gone from wanting Autistic children to have ways of mixing socially with others (point one), to making them behave in a way that is acceptable to society (point two). When did that happen?
Even if we do do Point One, we find it exhausting talking to one person in a quiet room with no distractions, let alone, two or three or more in a room full of bustle and noise, or a playground filled with wind and screaming children running around everywhere. So we need to withdraw regularly for our own mental health. So we don’t want to go to After-school clubs or social groups, or spend our weekends running the streets because we’re exhausted. We’ve spent the day with hundreds of people roaring in our ears, in an environment which is cruel and punishing. Sensory hell.
The other issue is bullying. Bullying in all schools is rife, despite what they’ll tell you in Government statistics, Ofsted reports and fancy syllabus’s. But bullying for Autistic people is a whole other level. There isn’t just the physical aspect, the punching and hitting and kicking, there’s the mental aspect of it too.
I ended up with several people in my Form class that I’d gone through Primary School with. People that i considered Friends. I knew them and they knew me. I’d played football with them outside of school even. But they were friends only because i didn’t know any better, I thought Friends were supposed to make fun of me, call me names to my face, criticise what I did and generally big themselves up by knocking me down. And silly me, I kept coming back for more and more and more. I had Friends. This is what was supposed to happen, wasn’t it? Friends are supposed to constantly undermine you. It didn’t matter how bad i felt, you were supposed to have Friends and Friends I had.
It took until I was 19 to really realise what these people were doing to me. That they were a big part of the reason I decided to ‘step-out’ at 14. They were part of the reason that I bailed out of Sixth-Form College after a year. They were part of the reason I drank and and took drugs. I wanted to be like them, I wanted to be ‘normal’, because that’s what ‘normal’ was. My Mask had something to emulate.
Everywhere you look in Facebook groups and on Twitter, it’s parents saying: school have done this, school have changed that, school want my Autistic child to do this, or that, or the other. Parents complain, nothing really changes, but they keep sending their child in. Their child melts down and ends up taking time off school because they can’t cope, or is put in isolation by the school, or somehow worse, bottles it up and bottles it up, suppressing their pain and inability to cope until they do what I, and so many others like me, did (more on this later).
The problem can be viewed like this:
a) Teachers in general have no understanding of Autism. Seriously, find me a non-Autistic teacher who knows what’s going on in an Autistic child’s head, knows exactly what is triggering, knows exactly what sensory issues they are going through, knows the best way to support their learning and engage them and keeps them happy and I’ll leave you all my worldly belongings in my will (Don’t worry Michelle, it’s not going to happen)
b) Schools are, for the most part, unable to provide a safe sensory, non-judgemental environment, yet continue to perpetuate their ability to provide for the needs of Autistic children.
c) Schools and parents are stuck in the societal cycle of:
Child must go to school – Child must learn XYZ – Child can’t cope in the school environment – Child’s attendance drops – Child is forced back to school
I read a Facebook comment once, where the Mum stated that her child was refusing to go to school, refusing to behave when they got him there, refusing to do everything and melting down all over the place and so on and so on.
Two things stuck out at me:
1. The Mum said she’d been begging the child to go to school because he has exams in 4 weeks time.
2. The Child’s teachers had been emailing the Mum to tell her that he’s going to fail his subjects and they want her to help him study at home.
What is wrong with that picture?
Society says you must go to school, pass your exams, get a job, get married, have children and die.
Mum and Teachers, locked in that cycle, try to perpetuate that cycle. Autistic child doesn’t work in that cycle though. So, what do Mum and Teacher’s do? Try to perpetuate the cycle. Autistic child doesn’t work in that cycle though. So, what do Mum and Teachers do? Try to perpetuate the cycle. Autistic child doesn’t work in that cycle though. So, what do Mum and Teachers do? Try to perpetuate the cycle… And on and on and on…
All the while, Mum is getting more and more upset and stressed and the child, who remember, isn’t at school because they are so stressed and overwhelmed, is getting more stressed and overwhelmed. Where where does that end?
School is like a universe of sensory overwhelm, of stress and anxiety, of constant reminders of YOU ARE DIFFERENT, all shoved in a bottle, cork applied and then shaken up.
Remove the cork and the contents explode in your face.
I lay back on the bed, looking at the familiar cracks in my ceiling. Lines i have followed for years whilst waiting for sleep.
I’m so tired. Tired to my bones. I don’t want to die, not really, I just want to step out, I’ve had enough. I don’t know another way of doing it though. Nobody sees what I see. Nobody is what I am. Nobody else stands on the periphery of life stuttering and farting and misfiring like Mr Toad’s car.
79 tablets sitting in my belly. I can feel them there, slowly dissolving.
I close my eyes. I can feel the softness of the pillow as my head sinks into it.
A lifetime of being separate from everything, disjointed and apart starts to feel different, starts to feel like it happened to someone else…
I think of school again, as I did before I took the tablets. It’s still just black, still just a sense of hurting and pain and fear, but it feels distant now, far away. It’s a nice feeling.
I feel waves of comfort slowly washing over me, almost as if each wave is a tablet dissolving and disappearing into my bloodstream.
I can hear my clock ticking on the wall, it seems to synchronise with my heartbeat.
I’m relaxed and calm for probably the first time in my life. My head is quiet. The Rolodex of my mind has slowed to a crawl.
I’m floating now. Watching myself lie there. Not screaming now, not trying to fight with my body to get anything out. I’m Mute, but in a good way, because I choose to be.
I’m stepping out.
No more confusion.
No more pain.
No more exhaustion.
No more alone.
I awake to my alarm
The fleeting calm gone.
I sigh and sit up. I look around the room of a teenager who tried to kill himself and failed, the teenage posters, my books. It all feels a little redundant.
Last night I was leaving.
Last night i was dying and i wasn’t scared.
The thought of not having to do this anymore made me happy.
And I failed at happy.
At 14 I took an overdose and failed to kill myself. I didn’t make it as far along in School as the child being pushed to exams, in my example. All over the world Autistic teenagers, Autistic young adults are attempting, or managing suicide.
Autistics have a word for this. It’s called Burnout.
It comes at different stages in our lives, often more than once. It is a physical reaction to years of pressure and anxiety and stress. It’s happened to me four times in my life. The first time I tried to kill myself. The second time I walked out of college and shutdown, then withdrew from life apart from alcohol and drugs. The third time I walked out of a job and stood on a tube platform for three hours, balanced on the edge, virtually catatonic. I eventually went home and didn’t tell anyone I’d left work for three months (Yes, that’s how much notice was taken of me). The fourth time I walked out of a job and never went back to work again.
Burnout is a mental health issue. Autistic children are suffering from Burnout all over the world. A study in 2013 concluded that Autistic teenagers are 28 times more likely to consider or attempt suicide than their Neurotypical peers.
You see figures about child mental health all the time. The rising levels of kids being depressed or suicidal. They’re thrown around by various governments, who nod sagely and harrumph in agreement about something needing to be done and then never actually do anything more than something superficial. The UK government has done it recently. Earnestly announcing that £300million is going to be invested to create 3000 mental health workers to liaise with schools by 2021.
According to Government statistics there were 8,559,540 children in schools across the UK. That’s steadily risen over the last five years, so it’s fairly safe to say there will be 9,000,000 children in schools by 2021.
That works out to 3000 pupils per 1 mental health worker. Yeah, seriously. The phrase pissing in the ocean springs to mind, especially when you consider that they are pulling the rug out from under CAMHS and schools as i showed in ‘The Great Autism Diagnosis Cover Up’
I’m a firm believer that this world isn’t ready for us. Society rails against that which it cannot control, cannot put in a box. Which is why Schools don’t work for us. They are literally society factories, firing out one drone after another. The same education, the same four walls, the same results, rinse and repeat. To be fair, to a great extent, school doesn’t work for lots of children.
Film-maker and Writer, Carol Black (Who is a hero of mine and a proponent of Unschooling), director of the wonderful documentary: ‘Schooling the World‘ asked me what my ideal learning environment might have been, could I have changed things. I’ve had a long time to think about this and a lot of reasons to. I worked as a Teaching Assistant for a number of years across two schools, am a qualified Forest Schools Teacher and was part of an attempt to set up a Free School whose curriculum was Child-Led, so I have seen and taught in a variety of different educational settings and explored many different teaching styles.
I can only answer for myself with what I’m about to write, but I can see how things that I’m about to write would and are affect Quinn and other Autistic children who I’ve seen crushed by the system.Things might have been different had i gone to school during a time when computers were available, but for me the following was the problem, or would have made the difference
My senior school had over 2000 pupils in it and probably near a hundred staff. For someone who can’t cope in socially driven situations and has sensory issues related to touch and sound, this is like dropping a goldfish in a bowl filled with lava and expecting it to thrive. It’s too many and too much, too many in the room, too many in the building, too many outside on the playground/playing field. I could feel them all without seeing them. I knew they were there and was oppressed by their presence.
I sat in a square box inside which I had no choice where to sit, or who to sit next to, if anyone. I had someone bumping and rubbing my shoulder and thigh accidentally and constantly, I was restricted to my half of the desk, I couldn’t jig my leg because the table bounced and I’ll have gotten looked at and complained about and told off
I had fluorescent lights over my head flickering constantly and humming (many Neurotypicals can’t see or hear this), which kept my anxiety levels cranked up and gave me a constant low lying headache.
I was constantly surrounded by people wherever I went, there was literally no place where I could shut out everyone and everything, no door i could close behind me and not be disturbed.
Equally there was nowhere I could go outside which was calm and safe, even if there was, there would have had to have been a designated time I could there, not just when i needed to walk away and disengage.
The outside; green, trees, plants, wildlife and most especially water is so important to me and grounds me, yet I was unable to access any of those things. The ability to sit and work next to a pond with running water, to sit and look at the fish and hear the water moving would have helped to calm and relax me and make me more open mentally to absorbing information.
I was taught things that weren’t relevant to me and taught in ways that I didn’t understand. It sounds blase to say that I didn’t care for what I was taught, that I wasn’t interested, but having an interest in a topic is what drives an Autistic. We thrive on interest. I am driven intensely by my interests, so to allow me to drive how and what i learn would have been mind-blowing. For someone to have taken my interests and built tasks to create my learning journey around them, using my interests to create a curriculum, letting ME lead MY learning would have given me the element of control over my life which at that age was sorely lacking.
I am very good at Maths now, but hated Maths at school. Despite being Academic, I managed to scrape a C grade at GCSE, which is ridiculous when you consider, if I am good at Maths now, had my issues been addressed I would have been good at Maths then. I got lost during lessons and couldn’t keep up, I struggled to hear and process what i was told and once i missed one part a wall went up. Interestingly, my ability with Maths was re-sparked after becoming a Teaching Assistant and sitting in on Maths classes as an adult.
I hit a wall at Primary School with Fractions. I couldn’t understand the process of putting them together and taking them apart. I had a book with Fractions questions to work through and I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t understand how they went together. I am a visual learner, if I’d had physical, tangible things to touch, so that I could pull them into my world builder, generate a model from that i could pull apart and put back together, I would have understood them, I could have done them. Instead I saw the word Fractions and my mind shutdown.
I see schools now making accommodations, children wearing noise-cancelling headphones for example, but surely it would be better for the child to be taught in an environment where headphones are unnecessary. All that is teaching the child is that in order to fit in, they need attachments and adaptations. How about making the world fit in with the Autistic child?
Constantly Disabled people are asked to meet Society’s demands and needs, but how often does Society meet the demands and needs of the Disabled person?
The Education System ignores the skills of the people in it and rewards those broadly academic and able to cope. It sees what it classes as Special Needs and only sees deficits; what needs to be improved, what needs to bettered, how far are the children behind?
Why doesn’t it look at what the child is good at? For example I know of an Autistic with a Learning Disability who can tell people the day of the week they were born on, just by their date of birth. What mental calculations and memory must be churning over to be able to do that. But, has anybody worked with him to focus that skill, to utilise it in some way, to see what else he is capable of? No.
Autistic people are misunderstood and underused. People talk constantly about us not being able to function in Society, yet they are the ones who hold us back from being able to do so because of rigid and unimaginative thinking (yes, the very thing we are accused of).
The Education system is failing Autistic children. Autistic children who are often the cleverest people in the room. We are not designed for noisy boxes full of people. In order to limp through we have to pretend, we have to hide ourselves.
School taught me three things:
How to be more anxious than I already was.
How to be overwhelmed in an instant.
And that to survive it, I had to hide who I was. I had to wear my Mask. I had to hide my Autism.