Dear Zoe,

I know you feel helplessly alone and confused at the moment. Secondary school has been completely overwhelming for you. After spending about 2 years refusing to go to classes, do your homework, and endless meetings with the principal about your lack of obedience, you made the decision to quit school. You are ridiculously smart though.  You know what rules to break to get yourself suspended (which gives you a few days off), you figured out how to avoid going to classes but still ace the exams at the last minute, but you are tired of playing this game.

Your history teacher told you that you are “the type of person to end up in prison” and others have told you similarly uninspiring assumptions about what your future holds. You feel like a failure of a person which isn’t surprising given the lack of support around you. As an adult Zoe, I can assure you that you are no failure. The Leaving Certificate is overrated anyway. More importantly, nobody knows you are autistic so nobody really understands why you struggle with meeting the expectations of what a sixteen year old is ‘supposed’ to do.

Knowing now that you are autistic, it comes as no surprise to me that you communicated your distress to others in unique ways, ways that your neurotypical parents and teachers and welfare officers could never quite decode. The images of death and harm that you put up all around your room, the songs about dying and despair that you listened to at full blast. The self-harm that was very visible to anyone who looked at you. The absolute refusal to attend class. Your silence.

You communicate not through words, but through concepts and art. You will find a way to communicate your emotions and distress in healthier ways in time to come, and you will find people willing to be patient with your need for non-verbal communication in crisis. You will also heal the trauma of your distress being ignored during this time and the messages this sent you about being unworthy of love and support.

After quitting school you decide to move to London by yourself. A bit of a wild decision for a child to make, but you are no ordinary child. You are a survivor and you know that continuing to live your life as it is, is not working. London will change you though. You will experience a loneliness and despair no child should face alone. But as I said, you survive it and manage to find a way through.

Zoe, it won’t always be like this. You will find people like you. You will carve out a life that you think might just be worth living, you will find people who love who you are, and have the patience and love to figure out your way of being in the world, with you. You will learn to ask for help and realise that some people will actually want to help you. You get into college and achieve a first class degree. You get a scholarship to do your masters. You will find your safe space of calm in painting and the arts, and you will find community.

You have to learn to carve your own path, and that this isn’t because you’re a failure, but because of societies failure on all people like you.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *