A Letter To My Mother From My Younger Self
Dear Mom, I am Autistic, not willfully disobedient or disrespectful.
I am easily overwhelmed and often scared.
I don’t usually know what people expect of me, but I always seem to get it wrong. And then I am in trouble.
Grocery stores hurt.
Trying to do what seems to come easily to others is hard.
School really hurts.
I hate the smells and sounds at the laundromat ~ they make me want to crawl out of my skin to get away from them.
No, I am not “picky” ~ some foods really feel awful in my mouth or taste strange to me.
I really need home to be a safe place where I can be “me,” but you seem to get really angry at me when I am just “me.”
You don’t like me very much, I think.
This seems to be the case when I hear you talk about me as if I am a “bad kid” and about how hard it is to raise me.
I really am trying my best to be a good kid and to learn how I can be acceptable to other people.
The doctors and therapists you are sending me to are teaching me that I am not acceptable.
They are teaching you to see me and treat me as unacceptable.
Oh. And I’m a boy. I don’t get why people keep insisting that I am a girl.
Please Love Me,
A Little Context:
I am a late-diagnosed Autistic individual. I was assigned female at birth (AFAB). When I was a child, I was misdiagnosed with ADHD and ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder) because “girls can’t be Autistic.” ABA therapies were utilized. My mother was coached and trained to use ABA principles in her parenting.
This is not intended to be an anti-ABA piece. I simply want to express what it felt like to be constantly misunderstood and to have all my actions so profoundly misinterpreted. If I knew then what I know now— about who I am and why and I am the way that I am— what could I have said to her that might have helped her really see me?
In my fantasy world, my mother would have stopped the therapies. She would have listened to me about how challenging, confusing, and terrifying school was. My mother would have advocated for me. She would have understood how much it hurt me to be seen as a rebellious, defiant, manipulative, and willful child. Maybe I would have heard “I love you,” without a “but” attached to it.
Writing this piece, I am engaged in healing my inner child. Perhaps there is healing in these words for others, as well.
Maybe you, too, were an Autistic child, not a “bad kid.”
If you were to write your own letter to a parent (or to any adult who played a pivotal role in your childhood and who misunderstood you), what would you say?