Dear passer by,
I know what you think you saw. I could tell by the look in your eyes. The curl of your lip. The way you turned to your friend, muttered something, shook your head.
You saw a kid in muddy clothes, pulling violently on a tree branch, shouting and screeching. Little vandal. I’ll bet she’s a handful in the classroom, if she even goes to school.
You saw a Mom standing and watching, phone in hand, taking photographs, laughing. What a terrible parent. Can’t she teach that child to respect nature? Can’t she stop her being so destructive. It’s no wonder the child behaves the way she does.
You saw me.
You saw my daughter.
You saw us out on a walk.
Melon is autistic. She’s 5. She’s had probably the roughest week on record since her diagnosis 10 months ago. Imagine her as a cup which is always half-full of anxiety. Life events, change, the environment and stress help that cup to fill up with anxiety till it overflows. It’s called a meltdown.
You didn’t see a meltdown. The meltdown happened yesterday, and the day before, and this evening.
We did that same walk yesterday. If you’d been there, you’d have seen Melon screaming, wearing shorts because she couldn’t bear the feeling of clothes on her legs. You’d have seen her constantly dropping to her knees to obsessively touch the floor and her ankles – it’s a ritualised behaviour that she uses to try and manage her anxiety. You’d have seen me powerless to stop except by hugging her tight and wrapping my coat around her like a shield.
You’d also have seen Melon refusing to turn round and go home, because she loves to walk. She loves to pick blackberries. She loves nature. You’d have seen her push herself to do something she wanted, employing every coping mechanism she knew.
We’ve done that same walk a lot this summer. Melon has been anxious because school has been on a break. She’s been anxious because school is starting again. Her routine is blown to pieces, her sleep has been disrupted. The weather has been too hot, the lights have been too bright. That same walk, has been a thing that gave her a sense of routine. Now do you see why it was so important for us to go on it?
Come back to today.
What did you see? – Melon pulling on that tree. Why? – Because she’s realised that the branch is strong enough to take her weight, and if she leans back she can bounce and swing off it. She is seeking sensory input. Her senses – sight, smell, touch, balance, sound, taste, spatial awareness – need constant stimulation and input, the way a dry, thirsty mouth needs water. This is part of autism. It is more intense when she is anxious. Swinging on the tree helps her get that input. It helps her manage that anxiety. The noises she is making are her expressions of happiness and joy, and her way of creating sound to block out unwanted sounds.
You saw me taking pictures because she was so happy, she’d figured out something that felt good, I wanted to record the moment for my blog.
Melon isn’t ill. We don’t want or need your pity.
Autism isn’t a disease, it’s part of the way Melons brain is wired – part of her neurology. It throws up challenges every day, that require Melon and those who love her to adapt, adjust, innovate, learn new ways to cope and to communicate. Despite the hard parts, Nd the sad parts, I would not wish Melon to be anything other than who or what she is – my beautiful, hard working, determined little girl.
I do wish one thing though. I wish you would read this, understand it, and stop the judgemental looks and comments. Show some understanding, show some acceptance.