Why are teachers afraid to pursue to autism diagnostics for their female students? What about the word autism is so scary when it comes to developing female minds? To me, the answer has less to do with fear for the student, and more to do with wanting to limit distractions. Females are generally better at masking which is why you’ll see a heightened level of social anxiety, OCD, C-PTSD, and generalized anxiety in the female autistic community. We mask, and for years, we seem to exist on the sidelines–integrated into the community at large but still trying to decipher what that nagging sense of otherness is that we feel. For me, this otherness was first pointed out by childhood bullies, and not teachers. I was different, I was weird and they didn’t like it. Most schools operate under the idea of “majority rule.” If five people say you said a certain word, it must be true even if your story never changes. This was my life in elementary school–constantly preparing for the next lie, the next experience of this otherness to rear it’s ugly head.
Things came to a head around second grade when the girls came to me with a potential solution. It was implied that this would be a type of hazing, a ritual and I’d suddenly be allowed into the group. For those wondering how second graders can think like that, please stop to consider where neurotypical kids learn the laws of heirarchy. It starts at home. It starts with you, the parents, the teachers, the adults who make up the fabric of your children’s lives. If kids see and learn that those who are different are wrong, what do they do when they see that different person in the wild? They lash out.
For me, this manifested in intense bullying, name calling, and finally, in them essentially molesting me. ALL of this was done right under the teacher’s noses, some of it in plain sight, and nothing was done. In my third grade class, whenever papers were handed out, a girl named Ciara would go loudly, “Do her last.” Whenever anything was handed out–candy, papers, pencils–I was always last. This sent a message that I was worthless. This was done in plain sight of my third grade teacher and NOTHING was done about it.
One evening, during after care, I was reading aloud from an article about Nigeria, and students attempted to convince me that Nigeria was pronounced with an “ig” sound. They thought by convincing me it was pronounced differently, they could get me in trouble for saying the N-word. There is absolutely no way that was not pre-meditated. I did not buy it, and told them my father had told me it was pronounced Nigeria, and I believed my dad over them.
When I was around eight, a girl convinced me to go into the bathroom with her to “touch privates.” It was implied that this would be my entry into the group. There was false positivity in their voice. Years later, I would remember that the “false positivity” did not reach their eyes. Their eyes were not smiling. After this incidence, the bullying only got worse, and the girls held the incidence over my head. They would gang up on me even more: if they could use majority rule to convince teachers I’d called them the B-word (which never happened), what was to stop them from convincing them I was also a predator? They implied that if I did not go along with whatever they wanted, they’d target my sister.
To this day, I hate those girls with a raging passion. They are the reason I blocked out most of my childhood. However, the girls did not lay the foundation for me to be abused. That started at home. It started with my family.
I will attempt to be as kind as possible to those involved as I tell my story. If there’s one thing the pandemic taught me, it’s that growth is possible. I’ve grown and evolved so much over the past two years. I put in the work, I healed. My abusers did not, and that is not on me. The recovery, feelings, and emotional wounds of those who abused me are no longer my burden to carry. To be quite frank, they never were. But people have a way of taking advantage of those who are compassionate, kind-hearted and forcing them to be part of a narrative they never wanted to enter.
but like Meredith Grey tells Derek post break-up in season 2 of Grey’s Anatomy:
“I make no apologies for how I chose to fix what you broke.”
I always admired Meredith’s courage in this scene, and it’s this courage I will carry with me as I begin telling my story. Thank you, Meredith Grey and Shonda Rhimes for gifting me with some of the courage needed to speak truth to power and reclaim the narrative.