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This is my first piece as a Youth Patron of Ambitious about Autism and I am very glad to be able to contribute. On Monday 17th October I attended the ‘Finished at School’ Launch and the new campaign is particularly relevant for me as I am now fifteen.
From the age of four until eleven I was educated at a well-known London day school where the obligatory uniform is knickerbockers and gold jumpers. Despite the duration of time which was spent there, a sense of belonging never developed and I was essentially tolerated but it is unlikely a better educational experience could have been found in any other establishment. At Common Entrance my teachers expected me to successfully interview for one of the best schools. Imagery in an advertisement and facial recognition of international politicians resulted in their expectations being disappointed.
The diagnosis of epilepsy and DCD had already been made but the autism diagnosis did not come until a year after this and, in the meantime, the secondary education I had been in receipt of was awful. I did not or could not identify why things were so terrible but examples include the necessity to follow other people to classes because I never knew where I was; only being able to use the toilet when someone else was going whom I could follow; not being able to eat at lunch and feeling sick all day; never doing homework; pretending all the time, not knowing things that everyone was sure about and being unhappy without being able to recognise it or voice it. To be like everyone else was my aim and to conceal all the shortcomings became a challenge that took so much effort: it was easier to be thought of as stupid. It was not possible for me to ascertain why these difficulties were occurring.
After being home-schooled for some time tests were commissioned for a Statement and a special school in an adjacent borough was recommended. The operation of the school seemed very strange but an environment in any way comparable to it had never been experienced before and I therefore assumed that getting used to the culture was part of the process. I met some children there that I will always wish to know and think very highly of. There were children with very mixed learning difficulties and we were all educated together in groups of seven. An education for children who had academic aspirations was promised but work was assigned to me, at age twelve, from books published for children between the ages of seven and ten. Socially, however, I fitted and the students liked me exactly as I am. I would like to say ‘thank you’ to them. However, the educational opportunities were not there and the treatment of the students by the teachers is a separate article entirely.
Following this experience, I formed the understanding that no other manner of schooling was available but my mother contacted a tutorial college I had visited prior to Common Entrance and explained the situation. I have twenty hours per week and my education is individualised. It is not an autism-specific environment but my parent and school work very closely to enable an education for someone for whom all educational environments seemed impossible. However, dwelling on the negative aspects of my previous education is unwise because I am very fortunate. This is now my second year and at the end of the first I took a mixture of six GCSEs and IGCSEs achieving an ‘A’ as my lowest mark.
My favourite subject is mathematics and I am a member of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, attending their Maths Masterclasses, Maths Circles and Engineering Masterclasses. They also provide amazing lectures very frequently. This year I am taking more GCSEs/IGCSEs and continuing with some subjects slowly at ‘AS’ level. My brilliant maths tutor is also helping with preparation for maths competitions. I am not particularly talented at maths and often meet people who have more ability but it is the subject I would like to study at degree level and will work hard to apply to Cambridge University after studying ‘A’ Levels in Mathematics, Further Mathematics, English, Physics and Latin and having taken the mathematics STEP. Reading is another favourite pursuit and my English tutor has been amazing so that I have expanded my reading and improved my written work. It is certain, however, that I always do things slowly, a long way behind others and think that this is probably not a difficulty limited to me: this makes the Ambitious About Autism aim to have educational support until the age of twenty-five particularly relevant to people like me.
Sometimes I wish to be more or less autistic: if I were a savant I would achieve academically and, without the condition at all, I might fit so that people did not notice and make ‘autism’ their first word about me.
At university I would like to have minimal intervention and after my ‘A’ Levels I would like to study the Cambridge Mathematics STEP exam for a year or two. This will mean that I am older than many university applicants but, if I am able to live in a family home near the campus, it seems unlikely that I would need too much help. Places I visit daily are always unfamiliar and people are always new so that I would need help to find my way to the various rooms lectures and other classes were held in. Voices sound intermittent or indistinct and it would help me to record lectures and have photographs of the rooms as well as to be allowed to be seated earlier and leave when it was not busy. I would always want to be somewhere quiet.
Overcrowding, noise and conversation are stifling and I do not follow all that is said to me: having space without pressure to conform and failing to do so or sensing disappointment from others is an awesome prospect. After a degree, I should like to continue studies in mathematics at a higher level and eventually have a PhD. Thereafter, I hope to be a life-long academic and author of books and essays. To live in a house with my family on an island or area of land accessible only by a causeway at low tide is another of my aspirations.
Autistic people have contributed enormously to human development in small or great ways and supporting the ‘Finished at School’ campaign is the best chance to improve and protect our opportunities to do so in the future with encouragement, appreciation and recognition.
If you want to share your story, please email Anabel Unity Sale, Press and PR Officer: email@example.com