Autism...a disorder that now we are hearing about more frequently. Just 20 short years ago, it was almost uncommon to learn about a child who was afflicted with it. And definitely not adults. But as time has advanced, society is becoming increasingly aware of how it impacts lives of not only those afflicted but their families.
Historically, autism has been viewed as a disorder which afflicts children. But it isn't so. Meet 32-year-old Shelita Ingham, a Bermudian woman who now lives in the United Kingdom. She's engaged with four children. She tells Today In Bermuda that as a child she was misunderstood by her peers and her teachers and often her lack of verbal communication left her mislabeled.
"My mom was pressured to get me assessed and to undergo counselling due to my strange behaviours and mannerisms, but it never seemed necessary. Autism at the time was a condition attached to those who were mute and completely unable to function socially. It did not have the wide range of diagnosis today, and the chance of getting a proper diagnosis at that time was unlikely."
So, she says, she pushed through life, despite the challenges and unanswered questions, and now is the mother of one autistic son and another who has been flagged for the potential of being on the austism spectrum.
She adds it wasn't until she was having her son assessed, that the specialist informed her that she too, was autistic, and suggested that she undergo assessments. But she has chosen not to.
Now she has decided to begin blogging about her experiences both as a child and an adult with autism and explains why.
"I decided that blogging could possibly help those who have no idea what its like from the inside. I have that tool that helps me to help my children, and I'm going to use my honesty and transparency as much as I can to help the next person who does not have the advantage of knowing first hand."
Below is her first piece, entitled TRANSPARENCY.
I have come a long way.
I was a child who did not talk to anyone besides my immediate family. And if you got me to talk today, treasure the moment because it did not guarantee a conversation on the next encounter.
I ate simply. Foods couldn't touch each other and had to be sauce free and simple enough for me to figure out the seasoning.
I was an observer and this made me wise beyond my years. I was proud of my knowledge and often thought other children to be..."less appealing" and "not so bright". I was an artist and loved opportunities to express myself creatively.
I was stuck in a bubble that only expanded as far as my shadow. The world was too loud, peoples' voices confused me and often irritated me. For someone to approach me for conversation would completely overwhelm me. My thoughts were the most important thing to me while My personal space was a close second.
I touched things evenly with both hands so that I would stay balanced. I could feel when they weren't and would repeat the action until it felt complete. I walked on my tiptoes because I felt "loose" when I didn't.
My teachers frustrated me because they mistook my quietness (muteness) for lack of intelligence and refused to challenge me based on my work alone. School was torture. Too many children, connecting desks, sitting too close, talking too close, touching me, school bells, unexpected intercom messages, children being children (I interpreted it as childish) repeated work (I know this already) and being forced to be outdoors among the chaos of happy children.
The smell of school was intense. It smelt of orange peel and old sandwiches. Lunch time meant holding in gags as I watched children pull out sandwiches. Looking over and seeing stuff on bread right next to me...ewww.
They chewed too loud, left food on their fingers and drank from their thermoses before wiping their mouths--nasty.
Why do teachers snack on peanuts and popcorn? These are the two loudest snacks anyone can eat and I'm literally screaming inside my head.
The sound of chalk writing on the board....get me out of here!!
Children always liked me. Why? Do not show up at my house and ask my mom if I can come outside. She's going to say yes without asking me. I'm in the bathroom....for the next hour. Go away.
Toothpaste on the toothbrush....in a lump made me gag. (Still) No glass was ever clean enough to drink out of and no fork was ever clean enough. My fingers were never clean enough.
I knew how to talk and I talked well....at home, but didn't have a clue how to interact with the general public. There are a handful of special friends who were able to break through and who have known me since childhood. Most people found me to be mysterious and intimidating. I was trying to figure myself out just as much as the next person.
These are just a few of my every day challenges as a child. It was suggested on more than one occasion that I was autistic. I was urged to go through and accept the diagnosis as an adult to bring understanding to my life. I declined it. Why?
I have come a long long way from that child who felt like they were stuck in a bubble and who didn't even know where to begin to get out. When I found my voice through singing, the world seemed to open up. I was able to channel the language used in memorising songs into conversation.
I look back at all the do's and do not's that I once had and I am amazed at my ability to eat freely and talk spontaneously and I can even mingle for a little bit (really hard to do still). I still dread leaving the house and trying to figure out sounds and placement of people and having to have conversations etc.
I still feel your eyes (hard to explain), and I still get a headache every single time I go somewhere public. The beautiful thing is, I can do these things and joke my way through (survival mechanism) and be happy while facing daily challenges.
I survived "autism" without a paper labelling me, and at this point (adulthood) I have basically figured it out on my own.
I'm still thankful through all the unpredicted mood changes, anxiety episodes and spouts of depression. I know who I am and I am proud of my accomplishments. No matter how small they may be.
Not only does being this way help me to understand my children better (something I can do from a personal standpoint) it helps me to have a unique approach to life that I absolutely love.