On being a 3 year old Autistic

Posted on: March 27, 2012

Todays guest blog is written by Leigh.

(Please copy and paste for a photo)

My first school photograph sits on the bookcase in my study. I say “school”, but it was nursery school and I was only three! “Awww,” you might say, or maybe “ahhh.” How cute!

But you’re not saying that, are you? Because you can actually see the photo, rather than just assume what it looks like. So you’re probably saying, “Oh…”

I’m often asked, ‘at what age did you first know you were different?’ and I’ve always said, ‘about three’ but without knowing how I knew that. Now – looking at this photo – I’ve just realised how I knew: the occasion of that photo is the first time I can remember not ‘fitting in’.

It’s not my earliest memory, but it’s a very clear memory: one by one, each child was summoned to the photographer’s chair, handed the puppet, told to smile, and had his or her picture taken – no doubt for the pleasure of our parents, and the profit of everyone else involved. I can clearly remember watching the other children just go, but knowing I didn’t want to, and not understanding why I had to.

Barring two snapshots of me as a baby (taken by a family friend), this photograph is also the earliest picture of me, so this occasion was the first time I’d been aware of being photographed. I’d never seen the man before, or his strange equipment, or the bright light, or the flash screen, or the flash… When I say “I couldn’t see why I had to have my photo taken” I wasn’t stubborn; I was scared, and terribly anxious. But at the age of three I couldn’t begin to explain that, regardless of how simple the situation seemed to my teachers, I DIDN’T WANT TO DO IT. As I write this, it brings tears to my eyes to remember that fear and anxiety. But they didn’t understand why I was scared, and so my fear was considered irrational. Invalid.

They tried cajoling and persuading me, but I wouldn’t go. I remember being left until last, because I was being so “difficult”, and in the end I was physically carried to the chair, sat, and the toy was thrust into my arms. And with the teacher’s forcing hand still in shot… click. FLASH.

The expression on my face says it all.

Afterwards, I cried. I bawled and wailed. I remember little about that part, except restraining fingers digging painfully into my arms. I was three, for God’s sake. What was the point? They put me through that… for a photo?

So, that was my first memory of being ‘not like the other kids’ – when I wouldn’t go to the chair and have my photograph taken like the other kids. And, no, I didn’t just want the attention. I wanted them to leave me the hell alone.

I’m proud of that picture now; it represents the intervening years of struggle and striving for My Self. It represents a lifetime of being told I was Difficult (amongst other things) when really I was just Different. It took another thirty-seven years, and a chartered clinical psychiatrist, to prove the point; but I’ve known for a long time I was different, yeah, even when I was three.

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2 Responses to "On being a 3 year old Autistic"

I have wondered for a while if Sean knows he is different, he’s almost 6 and has begun to compare his abilities with those of his peers and even his 3 year old sister – he gets very upset and so do I – so we’ve begun to write him a little book about having autism.

I often study the yearly photos on the wall and I can see the difference more every year!

Thank you for commenting!

It was very clear to me by Sean’s age that I was different. I was not only acutely aware of the labels people applied to me (which, by virtue of the times, did not include autism), but also that I didn’t identify with them: I never considered myself “difficult” or “wilful” or “disobedient”. Instead, all I saw was that tried my best, within my capabilities, yet constantly failed.

I love your autism-book idea – that’s a really positive way of looking at it, and I hope it helps him (and you). Sean is lucky to have such a pro-active mother!

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