Hi guys, I want to start this post just saying that this is a very light-hearted post in some ways and acknowledge that this post may be lighter but that doesn’t in any way mean I am not aware of or thinking about the insanity that is the world at the moment. I am very aware of all of this. I have considered doing a blog post about Black Lives Matter but I am not going to do this, because I feel that if there is a story to be put across about being black and autistic then it’s the duty of people like me who are white to sit and listen, to lift up those voices and have them heard. As a result of this, I really want to encourage any of you below who are aware of POC autistic bloggers (or YouTubers, or authors, or anything else) or if any of you have a presence somewhere and are POC to please share your links, or names or information below in the comments, or email me at the shiny new Aspiegirl blog email address here: Come say hello!
Once I get a reasonable selection of names and such (I will look myself also but I am currently dealing with a chunk of Uni work and living in an amount of pain due to a jaw issue which I might talk about someday but I’ll see) then I will either create a blog post sharing them or I will create a page for them and will link on a future blog post. Thanks, everyone for your support, I hope to keep learning and adapting my thinking as a white person and I hope you can help me to do that.
Now, on with the point of this post, the light-hearted content I promised. I am going to have to start with a brief PSA: I have not read the Ms. Peregrines Home books nor have I seen the film but the premise of the series is something I really like and I want to read at some point. I simply picked the title because it seemed a good title for what I am going to talk about. End of PSA.
I wanted to talk today about my primary school, I have a feeling I might have talked about it quite a while back in some of my very early posts but I don’t really remember and even if I have I wanted to talk about again in what I hope is a more consistent writing style… My Primary school experience was over two schools, the first primary school I attended was one I was only in for a month or two. My family noticed a massive change in me once I started primary school, not just adjustment but I wasn’t as happy in a lot of ways. I could already read before I started school so my family didn’t feel that it was related to work either, they didn’t know what was going on and given my parents had got the advice that I wouldn’t handle a mainstream school this might have been one of the points in the change of school. Only when I was in Primary Four, after being in my second primary school for a number of years, did my family learn the reality of it all, but that’s not the story for now.
The primary school I moved to was very small, I went from a primary class of average size (twenty-thirty pupils I presume) to a school where I was the nineteenth pupil. I was not the nineteenth pupil in my class, no, I was the nineteenth in the entire school. The school was relatively close by, but it was much smaller and the old building had only two classrooms, big and bright ones with big windows and lots of colour. The junior classroom was primary years 1-3 and the ‘Big’ class was primary 4-7. A lot of things changed over the time I was at this school, it did grow quite a lot and when I left we had three classrooms, as well as a number of other things.
The class I joined in Primary one was taught by the headteacher – she was both the head and a classroom teacher, and she would teach me for four years, I will refer to her as Mrs. Dunwell, for reasons I won’t explain but that’s her. I was a new experience for the school as the autistic kid, but I was far from a novelty. In the first one or two years of primary school here, (I remember this but not well) once a week on a Thursday a class of four of five children used to come to visit us for the afternoon from the nearest special needs school. We used to sing songs and play playground games with these kids and their support teachers – one of the memories I have which are so clear I see them as like a video clip in my head, was a day near Easter when one of the girls in the class who used a wheelchair was pushed around with a basket of little chocolate eggs and had a large red button which she pressed to say ‘please take one’.
This shows me how Mrs. Dunwell saw teaching, she was hugely into inclusivity when – the early 2000’s – the idea of ‘mixing’ children with additional needs in with their peer group wasn’t common and it certainly wasn’t common in this situation where it was not an additional support base as part of the primary school but a specific additional support school. From this time in my life I remember a lot of things, I remember afternoons where the day ended sitting in the reading corner with our teacher reading us a book. The books she read to us were not ones which we could have read ourselves, but they were the sort of books that were written for our age. We read Charlotte’s Web, we read Heidi and, when I moved into the ‘Big class’ we were read Children of the Oregon trail, a book non of us had ever heard of but one Mrs. Dunwell knew and loved. She also had other stories, stories from her own life which were eye-opening and often had morals to them which we didn’t really understand at the time and now look back on.
This teacher inspired us to learn, learning wasn’t all about tests and levels, we did a lot of learning about the world around us with a huge amount of enthusiasm. It wasn’t unheard of on a nice summer day (rare in Scotland) Mrs. Dunwell would drop everything and our small 1-3 class of maybe twelve children along with the help of the classroom assistant I will call Mrs. Tables, would go off up the hills behind the school for a walk. This would never be allowed now due to rules and regulations but it was brilliant. It allowed us to see education wasn’t all from a book, it was a way to practice some of the songs and poems we had learned, or ask questions about our environment, to see natural changes. Without fail every year the whole school would take part in a larger walk, often sponsored, that took advantage of the amazing place we lived.
We had a school garden that had flowers planted yes but it also had a small greenhouse and some fruit trees. Every autumn the school got engaged in making apple crumble, each age group doing different parts of the process, every January we had Scottish poems learned to celebrate Robert Burns and over the winter months, our PE classes were always focused on Scottish country dance. We had school performances usually twice a year, we had science days and maths days, we had visitors from the community and in turn, we visited them. For many years we even went carol singing as a school sometime in December, despite being out of the school day most kids came along with their parents to take part in a tradition long gone in a lot of other places.
The more of this post I write the more I realize I could keep writing for weeks about my memories of the school and the things we did but I’m going to curb those thoughts. I want to explain why this school experience made me the person I am. The way I was taught by Mrs. Dunwell, the way I was supported on and off from Mrs. Tables and also the teacher I would have from primary four to seven – who hasn’t come up mostly because I have focused on my early primary years – Mrs. Beans, is the reason I am at University. I strongly believe that the words said back when I was diagnosed with autism, the idea that I wouldn’t ever be able to cope in a mainstream school might have been my reality if I hadn’t gone to a school which understood me, or that when they didn’t understand me learned. I was able to learn at my own level, I was placed in a reading group with some others in my class who had dyslexia because my hyperlexia helped them with the sounds and words while their better understanding of emotions helped me to see the point to the story being told.
I was never excluded from anything. There were some things based around helping me to understand them, things such as using animals in maths problems which wasn’t in any way a detriment to the other children but a large help for me. I always knew I had differences from the other kids, I knew that they did things differently from me but when I learned to skip with a rope after practicing daily for weeks at home, everyone at school was delighted to hear it. When I read Swallows and Amazons age six years old I got a certificate even though the teachers weren’t in any way surprised. When I was around eight my Mum came across a beautiful blue and purple kilt which I was in love with as I had always wanted to go to a school where they wore kilts (we had a private school near us which had tartan as a big part of their uniform). My Mum had phoned my teacher on a Sunday evening apologizing that there wasn’t any way she would get me to school the following day without wearing this kilt, but that she would work on getting me back into a school uniform over time.
Mrs. Dunwell’s reaction to this was that I should be allowed to wear the kilt as part of my school uniform, it did match the school colours and it was a tiny change for the school overall versus being a significant one for me. Not only did I continue to wear my kilt to school from then on but Mrs. Dunwell adopted the tartan for the school, taking a scarf of the same tartan colours to a six-nation rugby game later that year in case she was seen on the tv.
Because my primary school saw me as a person because they recognized that small changes in their daily lives could have a very big impact on me and because they embraced my autism as an asset and never a curse I was able to grow and learn and love life in ways I may never have done otherwise. I thank them so much for those years, and I will never forget them.
Do any of you have experiences of people or places which accepted you as you are and how did they help you? As always I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and feelings. I hope that all my readers who have stuck around over the rocky past six months of blog writing are doing well, and the same to any new readers. I hope this more happy post helps keep spirits up. Again please let me know of any POC voices I can be sharing at this time, the email is always open and waiting. I hope to speak to you all again soon, thanks for reading. 🙂