My name is Jack Durrant and I have high functioning autism. The mainstream definition of autism is “a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people” –The National Autistic Society. However, this post is about my life, and the purpose of it is to give people a better idea of what autism really is.
When I first found out I had autism, I was essentially told the mainstream definition of it. I was about 7 or 8 and had very limited language back then, so my mum could only really tell me that I “find it hard to make friends”. Now, this is good as a basic definition of autism, as I do find it hard to talk to people I don’t know. However, as you can imagine, I wanted to find out more. I wanted to know why I found it hard to make friends, and I wanted to find out why I was getting beaten up at my school.
When I was 5, I started going to Robert Blair Primary School. The reason I started school a year later than everyone else is because my mum wanted to find a better school. Robert Blair was a terrible school. However, it was the only school with a language unit for students with communication difficulties.
I was bullied a lot at Robert Blair because I was different. To the other students, I was the freak. Not all the other students hated me, and a lot of the students were actually alright. However, there were enough bullies to make me forget about everyone else and to make me think I was a freak.
I was told, multiple times, that when another student messes with me, I should tell a teacher and they would sort it out. However, the teachers never helped me out and, as far as I can remember, the teachers never mentioned in an assembly that you shouldn’t bully someone else for being a bit different.
There are three memories I have from Robert Blair that I would like to share. If you want to know more, just ask in the comments. I have plenty more to share. My first memory is of being punched in the face in the lunch queue, right in front of a teacher. I didn’t see the student who punched me, but a teacher watched it happen and did absolutely nothing about it.
My second memory at Robert Blair is in the break time. I was hiding under a sort of climbing frame, hiding from other kids who potentially wanted to beat me up. Then, some kid walked up to me and said “Hello ugly”. Before I had time to say “I’m not ugly” and get a proper look at his face, he threw gravel in my face and ran off. I ran out, crying like a three year old.
My third memory was the work I was given. The school were treating me like I had a learning difficulty, and I eventually thought I did. I was in Year 4, and I was being asked to find words that rhyme with “cat”. This is work that is insultingly simple, even for nursery kids. When I asked my teacher for something else to do, she told me in a disrespectful manner to sit down and carry on finding words. The teachers at the school were too lazy to give me proper work and a lot of the time, they were very disrespectful to the students.
I made a few friends at Robert Blair, and most of them also had autism. However, they all left the school and went to Hillingdon Manor. I asked my mum about going there and she said that probably wouldn’t be possible, as it was in the outskirts of London. However, we took a look at the school and eventually, I started going there.
Robert Blair and the council’s education autorities didn’t want me to change schools because they didn’t want to get a bad reputation by admitting that they couldn’t meet my needs. They said I would never do very well in life and even said that I liked it at Robert Blair. However, my mum took me out of school to have an IQ test. My mum had to get all the evidence she could, to prove I needed to move on from Robert Blair until, eventually, they gave in.
When I went to Hillingdon Manor, there was a massive difference. The 90 minute bus ride it took to get to school every day was a bit of a pain. However, I fit in a lot better at that school, as everyone else was as weird as I was! Hillingdon Manor is an autistic school. They focus less on educating students according to the national curriculum and more on helping them out with their autism, and at the time, that was more important for me.
I loved going to Hillingdon Manor at first. However, eventually, it was time for me to leave. Hillingdon Manor is a great school, but for me, it wasn’t perfect any more. In the math lessons, I was being taught insultingly simple stuff that I already knew from learning it the year before. I was starting to become Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory. If you haven’t watched the Big Bang Theory, end your misery now. Click the link and watch some videos.
When I left Hillingdon Manor, I went to the International Community School. This school is an International Baccalaureate school. The IB is recognised as a better education system, as it gives students a wider education. However, it didn’t work for me. The IB requires students to learn a foreign language and a humanities subject to get a diploma. I also joined the IB course in the middle of it, when I was 14. To do the IB, you really need to start from the beginning. Besides, A Levels better meet my needs anyway.
Another problem with the International Community School is that the school was not made for students with autism. A lot of schools tend to hire people who don’t know a lot about special needs. I don’t know why that is, but at some point, I had an assistant sitting next to me in class telling me to hurry up, when I am very slow at handwriting. Eventually, I told her that I found it annoying, to which she said she found it annoying that I don’t look at her. She had no right to say that, as difficulty with eye contact is a very common aspect of autism.
Because of my autism, I get extra time in exams as a right. I read and write slower than other people and need that extra time. However, when I was at the International Community School, I was told I had extra time in an exam, but I saw the next class in that room waiting outside. They weren’t annoyed, but, as anyone who doesn’t work at that school would understand, I felt very awkward. My extra time should be in a room that doesn’t have another class in it, and I should not have to feel embarrassed to use it. When I told my school that, they understood me and started properly giving me extra time almost immediately. However, the initial mistake wasn’t very clever.
The International Community School said they couldn’t send one of their school buses to my house as it was in an area without that many students, which meant I had to take the London Underground to school. I couldn’t handle that very well, as the trains were packed. The Tube in London isn’t as bad as the Tube in Tokyo, but it is still overcrowded and I eventually started taking the bus, which isn’t much better.
When I was at the International Community School, I changed loads. I went from being a confused, very emotional child in a completely new place to being the computer freak. The students at the International Community School thought I was a bit different, as I didn’t talk as much as the other students did, but I wasn’t the freak I was at Robert Blair.
Now, let’s go back to what this blog post is meant to be about – my definition of autism. It took me years to figure out what autism meant and before I had it all figured out, I looked at it in a slightly negative way, being told it was a disability. However, I know now that I am not disabled. I don’t feel disabled and I look normal like everyone else.
Some people with autism let themselves become disabled, and some don’t get the help they need and end up thinking they are disabled. However, I look at in the same way I look at homosexuality. People think it is a bit weird at first and people like Adolf Hitler don’t think they should be allowed to live. However, when it is explained properly, a good person will understand and accept that some people are a bit different.
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Wednesday 3rd October 2012 - 13 comments