When I was in elementary school, I was in multiple different therapies. I had physical therapy, I had occupational therapy, I had speech therapy. I remember my dad doing things like marching with me (helping me learn to walk heel, toe). I also remember my parents using hot sauce, chili powder. and rubbing alcohol on the tips of my fingers to try and make me stop one of my stims. (I suck the first two fingers on my left hand. It helps me sleep, and has been one of my longest-lasting and most-calming stims.) I recall not being allowed to have what all my siblings had until I had pronounced it correctly.
Today, I’ll give my parents the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they really were doing the best they could, maybe they truly didn’t know that what they were actually doing was traumatizing me. I haven’t been able to believe that in the past, but maybe they honestly didn’t know that they could never succeed in changing me. I’m not a broken or defective NT – I am, and always will be, autistic. Occasionally, I can mask well, but my preference is to not do that anymore. I prefer to be openly myself, and since being so open and honest have found that some people really look up to me and consider me a role model. There are kids who know that I’m autistic like they are, and that I am also a teacher’s aide. They know that I’m a mom of an allistic child, giving them reason to believe that they, too, could raise a family if they want to.
My fragmented memories have me concerned for some people, though, especially kids who are in different therapies at school. In my state, schools have officially been closed for the remainder of the school year. This means many students will lose the benefits which come along with some of these therapies. My father teaching me to march has helped me to consciously think about how I walk – my right knee has been losing cartilage for years, and my hip is starting to have similar pains. I worry about how much worse off I would have been without physical therapy. And my fine motor skills are still nowhere near where they should be for an adult, but I’m able to produce legible handwriting. Being able to write and type is incredibly important to me, that often tends to be my primary mode of communication with those outside of my household, even before the quarantine.
I worry because, what will happen to these students? While some of them have parents who are privileged enough to be able to still provide them with supports, there are students who will no longer get the supports they need to help them learn. There are students whose parents have learning disabilities, yet are trying their hardest to help their child at least retain what they have. There are those whose parents dealt with the same struggles in childhood, and have very deep empathy and compassion. But there are also students stuck at home with abusers. Stuck, not safe, in a “home” where they have never been and will never be safe, regardless of the pandemic. I worry because our global crisis is already traumatizing enough, what will happen to these little ones who are coping with so, so much more?
I can’t even imagine what would have happened if, during my childhood, something of this magnitude had occurred. If I had been trapped at home with my parents (who would not have qualified as essential workers given their respective jobs at that time were secretary and neighborhood watch) and my brothers, nothing would have gone well for any of us. One of my older brothers was incredibly abusive, would use us smaller kids as his own personal punching bags. My parents had no idea how to raise 5 children, and they seemed to have basically given up by the time I started school. Which leads me to believe that, in a crisis like this, they likely would have done what they did during our breaks from school – pretend we didn’t exist, except at mealtimes. I am incredibly grateful that nothing like this did happen during my time in school, but I cannot help worrying about the more vulnerable among us who are stuck in horrible situations right now.