Over the years, I have discovered that nothing keeps a conversation going like a nice long recollection of childhood stories. Unfortunately this is rarely due to choice on my part, as it is apparently the most effective method for parents to get revenge for all the times you embarrass them as a small child. These days, it’s pretty much common knowledge that I had an odd fascination with theft as a small child, and would loudly ask Mum “Is it wrong to shoplift, Mummy?” in the middle of a busy supermarket. Not a Christmas will go by without the rest of my family having a good old chortle at the nativity book I wrote and illustrated in year two. I don’t know why I forgot to give the shepherds any clothes, or why I thought that everyone celebrated King Herod’s death by having a “party with cookies”. But hey ho, that’s childhood stories for you.
Autistic childhood stories can be a different kettle of fish. After much digging around in the loft yesterday, my mum found two whole boxfiles of stuff that had been written by my parents to teachers, and vice versa, trying to make sense of my eccentricities.
Even before I read it all, I realise that I may have come across as slightly strange the day my kindergarten teacher taught the rest of my class how to make clay pots. Not such an oddity in itself, except being the creative soul I was, I decided to make penguin feet instead. I don’t think my family will let me forget about the “Ascension” picture I did at Sunday school, where the disciples were pointing excitedly at a big fish I’d drawn in Lake Galilee, and not looking at the figure of Jesus stuck in a far corner of the page. Nor will I ever be allowed to forget the time I decided that a snowman would be the perfect illustration for an African bag I’d decorated during “Africa week” in year one.
Having a read through my old school reports, special needs reports, letters to and from school, etc put an end to any doubts about what a weird child I was. Some of it came flooding back to me, some of it I knew nothing about, some of it was too embarrassing for me to dwell on. It wasn’t until I started school that I let people call me “Grace” and not “Robert” (spelt “Robt”). Having intense autistic interests meant that telling people “I know all about cat breeds” was a perfectly logical way of introducing myself. In my mind, there was nothing strange about announcing “I had no idea corn snakes were polymorphic!” at a reptile exhibition, and the fact that I was only five was neither here nor there.
I was also a slightly obsessive loner, as shown by how I answered questions such as “what makes you happy?” with “I love anything to do with being alone”. One report recounts how my hearing was so sensitive I would cover my ears when too many people were talking, but not so sensitive that a fire alarm would evoke any reaction from me when I was engrossed in my work. In retrospect, I can almost understand why my earlier primary school teachers described me during teacher-parent meetings as “odd” and “strange”.
I guess one of the good things about being on the autistic spectrum is that, if your parents do tell such childhood stories to anyone who will listen, you can be fairly sure that at least yours won’t be anything like the sort you would hear about any normal child. I will have to try and remember this next time I get reminded that all my soft toys still had names, personalities and detailed family histories when I was nine. At the end of the day, it is what comes of being “special”…