I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 15. This meant that I spent most of my childhood masking, getting bullied, and suffering with mental health problems. It was horrible but there are some obvious signs I was autistic, if you know what to look for.
I army crawled as a baby/toddler. Apparently, this is a sign of autism. I found out that a large number of autistics also army crawled. I was also late in hitting my milestones. My brother was late too, but it is a fact that boys are supposed to be later than girls. I was later than him. He was my older brother so my parents were wondering why I wasn’t hitting the milestones quicker, when I was supposed to be because I was a girl. I was very slow at learning stuff; in fact, I was slowly catching up to my peers my entire life. I think a few extra years at school and I would have excelled. I just needed longer to process information. Once I had finally processed something, I could do well at it.
I hated people looking at me. It is a known fact that some autistic people dislike eye contact. However, for me, my reasons for disliking eye contact are more to do with the other person. When they look at me too long, it freaks me out. I have always struggled with eye contact, and this is why.
I was different. This might seem like an obvious one, but it’s important to note. I did not get on with my peers, they did not like me. I was seen as a know-it-all because I put up my hand at every chance I could. The teachers didn’t like me much either. Once I had developed social anxiety, I stopped putting my hand up. I was a bit of a perfectionist — still am, and I hated being wrong. I put up my hand to prove to myself that I knew the answers and my self-esteem would get lower when I got the answer wrong. I felt like I was stupid, even though I wasn’t to know every answer. I was a kid; I was learning. I didn’t need to know everything.
I hated standing up in class and doing speeches. Although I could put my hand up, I felt like it wasn’t as a big a deal as when everyone has to pay you attention when you do a speech. I stuttered, would look at the back wall instead of the people I was talking to, and would have anxious thoughts. It was horrible. Though, anyone with social anxiety would have been the same. This is not necessarily an autism trait, as it is an anxiety trait.
I cried a lot. I was a sensitive child who would cry when a teacher told me off because I tried so hard and yet they still told me off. I felt like I could do nothing right. It was a known fact that teachers did not like me. In fact, one teacher even called me whingy for crying in class. I struggled so hard because I tried to get everyone to like me but no one did. Not even the teachers.
I masked and mimicked. I picked up on others behaviour and copied them. However, they picked up on this and still didn’t like me. They still saw me as weird, no matter how much I tried to fit in.
I would have meltdowns when I got home from school. We didn’t know I was autistic at the time, but I would often come through the door and start screaming at my mum. This was because having meltdowns at school would have been branded as tantrums and I would have been told off; also, it would have made me less likable still. I had to mask. My mum also saw them as tantrums because I had not been diagnosed, but at least she was someone who would love me unconditionally. It was never her fault that she didn’t pick up on my autism. She was a parent who knew nothing of autism. I always felt like it was the school’s responsibility to pick up on stuff like that.
There was another kid in my class who had autism and wasn’t diagnosed at that school, because they really did not pick up on stuff. I even saw an occupational therapist and educational psychologist for my dyspraxia (also not picked up on by school; my mum was the one who picked up on both, after she was diagnosed with dyspraxia and my cousin was diagnosed with autism) and she did not pick up on it either. I did not expect the school to know everything about autism, but to at least spot some of the signs and refer a child for an assessment. It means something when a parent, who knows nothing about autism, is the first one to suggest there might be something wrong.
I hated parties. Often, I would have to attend family parties and I would sit in an awkward place by myself, struggling to talk to anyone. I would always leave early with my mum (she didn’t like parties much either). I do like parties, if they’re small and not the type of parties that are full of extroverts. Don’t get me wrong; extroverts can be nice and all, but if the party is full of them, it gets very overwhelming. They also struggle to understand my need for alone time because being around people gives them energy. I know a lot of extroverts and I just don’t know how to interact with most of them.
I had mental health problems at a really young age. This is often a sign that something isn’t right with a child because you never expect young children to be depressed. They’re supposed to be happy and excited about life. When they aren’t, it can be a sign there’s something wrong in their life. Whether that’s because they are being bullied, have a tough home life, or are trying to fit in when they have an undiagnosed condition, they all need support. I had a stable home life as a kid; I could not have asked for more supportive parents. However, I was bullied and did have an undiagnosed condition, which led to symptoms of anxiety and depression from as young as 8. It kept building up until it got really bad when I was 12 and I transferred schools at 13 because of it. Like that would resolve all my problems. It certainly helped with the bullying, but it didn’t help with my undiagnosed autism. I was still depressed and I didn’t understand why. I had friends now. I was still struggling to fit in but there were people who made sure I did. Boys were still mean but several girls protected me by being my friend. Boys could make mean comments, but I had friends now so it didn’t matter as much. Yet I still hated myself. I was put in groups for girls who suffered with mental health problems and self-esteem issues. People were trying to improve my self-esteem but the damage was done. I hated myself. Then, when I got my diagnosis, everything clicked into place. I still struggle with my self-esteem today, but at least I know why I didn’t fit in.
It is really hard being in school as an undiagnosed child. Everything you do wrong is criticised, despite there being a very blatant reason why. I didn’t have tantrums. I had meltdowns. I wasn’t a bad kid. I was disorganised, both in my brain and in life. With a little more understanding and patience, I think my mental health would not have gotten so bad. With a little more knowledge of autism in the world, and an earlier diagnosis, I didn’t have to suffer. But I did. I have heard stories of other females who were diagnosed late and the mental struggles that they went through. It really upsets me, thinking about it. It doesn’t need to be this way. With more education in schools of atypical autism symptoms (aka symptoms that aren’t as obvious), kids can have the relief that an early diagnosis brings. Their families can too, instead of worrying about them all the time.
These are just some of the symptoms that I had as an undiagnosed autistic child.
Thank you for reading,
The Autistic Panda