Harriet - Interview 42
More about me...
Harriet, a classroom assistant, was diagnosed with high functioning autism when she was 39. She describes feeling happy and sad when she found out; sad because she would never be part of the world she had spent so long trying to fit in and happy because she could stop trying so hard. She describes how she has always known she was not like other people and has had a difficult life in many ways; experiencing self harm, bulimia/anorexia and suicide attempts.
Harriet realised she may have autism after attending a training course to support children with AS. The people running the course commented on some of her responses and when she went back to school she was told that the staff at the school were convinced that she was ‘on the autistic spectrum quite noticeably’. Harriet went to her GP who referred her to a specialist who diagnosed her with high functioning autism.
She thinks her life would have been easier if she had been diagnosed at a much earlier age. She had difficult experiences at school and at home when she was growing up and has experienced abusive relationships. She feels comfortable with computers and likes science which gives her puzzles to solve, driving and playing tennis. She is doing an OU degree in science which is a safe place for her and enjoys her allotment which is “peaceful and beautiful with frogs, toads and foxes.” Her four children have been very supportive and helped her with aspects of life she finds difficult.
Harriet describes how she has difficulties staying still, communicating verbally, remembering instructions, obsession and fixations, stimming, changes in routine, textures, sound and light sensitivity, doing more than one task at a time, eating food and textures. For example, non uniform days are very difficult at school because first, the routine has changed and second, she finds the different colours confusing.
Harriet would like people “to listen to each other and see the person inside and accept each other for how they are, not what they wish them to be.” As she says; “Accept I move and feel and think differently but I am not stupid – I can show you beauty and peace and make you smile – I can do things differently and find answers that make life easier.”
Harriet went on a course about Asperger syndrome when the trainers commented on her responses...
Anyway I heard children read and because I look at things how I do I was given children with problems to help and explain things to (still unaware I was Asperger's). I was then asked to support, one to one, a child with Asperger’s.
Had Harriet been diagnosed as a child, she wouldn't have felt that she was 'a bad and horrid and...
Would it have helped you to be diagnosed much earlier in life?
Harriet won't do 'social mixing' unless she is forced and avoids situations with more than three...
Harriet describes the pleasure she gets from technology, science, driving, tennis and her allotment.
Technology is good - computers are my voice - I have built a computer – I try to
make them work when they break at school and the printers etc and I have
done computer clubs. I like the photocopier and will be called out of class
when it goes wrong to mend it because I understand it and other technology
things. I see what an object can do rather than hear the name of the object
so I use an object to do what I want it to do - they say I 'think outside
the box' for example there are lots of different uses for a peg (a
pinching/holding device) than holding washing. I am often surprised how
people do not see how to make life efficient by using objects to help them
and if I say use this they say they did not think of using it like that!
I am nosey so science is good for me - it tells me how things work and is
elegant - it also gives puzzles to solve. All my children are science minded
- they appreciate the beauty of the world, the movement of the clouds, the
feel of rain, the frog hopping in the allotment, the sound of the wind in
the trees or sea hitting the sand, smooth stones and so on ......... The
processes of moving your finger, getting the print on the screen, a car to
move - all those processes that have to work in harmony to achieve the
desired outcome and then to find out where the process went wrong when it
does not work..... it is good
I am doing an OU degree at the moment - science - and it is amazing and is
keeping me safe at the moment - a constant that keeps me grounded when
everything else is changing and frightening. My allotment is good - peaceful
and beautiful with frogs, toads, fox, - I have a grassy area which I mow and
beds of veg that I share with the wildlife (only as much as I say - I plant
more than I need so we can share but if they get greedy then I cover the
food!) as it is their home I am cultivating for me - I have big trees that
were there before I got there and it screens me from the other allotments so
it could be anywhere. The children from school come and visit in the summer
to see the pond and guess the veg and even the most disruptive child is calm
and understands that they are a guest of the wildlife and so am I.
I play tennis which is good and I like driving as it is so mathematical and
elegant thinking of all the processes to make a car work. I am good at
driving I am told. My spatial awareness when driving is good but when I am
walking it is not so good.
I do not go out socially - or visit other's houses. I have one person who
visits occasionally maybe once a month and that is that and when they are
here I do not know what to say and wish they would go because I feel unsafe.
Computer is good I am safe. I like the OU because communication is by computer ad it is the only place where I can be me and not have to hide my difficulties and I am me - it is safe.
Harriet describes the rules and routines she needs are like a narrow straight line she walks...
Harriet enjoys her work as a classroom assistant and the children accept her for who she is.
Harriet talks about taking an overdose and self harming during her adolescence.
For Harriet's children she was just their Mum. Her diagnosis didn't come till they had grown up.
When did you find out (how old were you?) and what did your family think about it?
I was about 39 I think - I am not quite sure - My parents were dead by then but my children were not too bothered as it did not make any difference to them as they had grown up knowing me as me. The eldest knew that there were things I did not do but he sort of told me what to do and when and when he left home for uni there was another child who took over the role. When I spoke to the eldest a little while ago I think he had thought about it more and he was very surprised about the things I find very hard but when I said well that is why you did x and x he said he just did them because it seemed natural and not out of the ordinary - he always was and still is (even though he is many miles away) very protective without being dictatorial - we can argue and then laugh and he still likes doing 'silly things' like water fights and climbing rocks and scrabbling up hills and things like that just to see the view and we both love computers and science and care about the beauty in the environment like the clouds moving across the sky or a dragon fly colours.
Though now looking back (he said) he could see where he covered for me but at the time he was not aware of it. The child/children who help me now have far more idea of where I need help because now it has a name I can say 'help I cannot do that' like shopping, people at school, strange places etc.... before it would have to be ‘oh I can't carry things’, you have to be there, you can read a map and so on.
I spent my life being so frightened that someone would find out and take the children away from me because I was a bad mother because I was relying on them so much - I thought that at any moment they would be a knock on the door. But I am very scared when they leave as I will then be on my own - I have never been on my own. It has been parents-from their house to husband and children - then children and me.