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You can behave if you really try!

In the minds of unenlightened people, all that children on the autistic spectrum need is clear guidance, given in uncompromising tones and with no room for naughty behaviour. As children we are trained to behave well and treat others with respect so when a child cannot do that, they are often treated as if they will not.

This is so far removed from the truth it would be laughable if it wasn't so sad. Would you chastise a deaf person for not trying hard enough to hear? What if they tried a little bit harder? Wouldn't they like to fit in with the other, hearing children? Would they not like to spend their days listening instead of causing all kinds of problems by not being able to listen?

If someone tries really hard and puts all their effort into it and follows all the instructions given by these genius-level educators, then well, actually, that person will still not be able to hear if they are deaf to begin with. It's a strange aspect of nature that if a creature has not been fitted with an in-built hearing system, then the hearing system will not work. Living in a world governed by the laws of physics, no amount of telling off will make it happen.

Yet, despite this kind of knowledge, and the vast majority of humanity understanding that a physical problem such as deafness cannot be overcome by will alone, most people do expect a child on the autistic spectrum to behave when they are told. And not just to behave, readers, but to behave the same as everyone else.

Let me be blunt: children were not born onto the autistic spectrum because their parents ticked or unticked a box. It is not a choice. It is a fact, hardwired into the very being of that child and it grows with them, just like the rest of their bodies change and develop over time.

Which leads me to another blunt fact: Guess what adults on the spectrum are? Can you guess? Well, they are (are you ready) people who used to be children on the spectrum!!! I know, get that! Amazing isn't it?

Those same children who were told off for misbehaving, for shouting at the wrong times or saying the wrong thing or finding all manner of creative ways to make school life a misery for everyone - those glorious children grow up and become glorious adults. Adults on the autistic spectrum. Who used to be smaller types of human, on the autistic spectrum. and didn't grow out of it, no matter how much telling they had thrown at them.

Yes, behaviours can be modified and children can be trained, bless them, to behave in a way the rest of the world finds more palatable (sometimes I really hate you, world). This is not the same as changing the person, though. The child who learns not to shout out in the quiet assembly because they enjoy the acoustics, that child becomes an adult who is nervous in public places because they know their behaviour might get them into trouble. The steps in between are multitudinous and often painful. At the end of their current journey, all adults on the spectrum have been the naughty child with severe words rained down upon them. Forgive us if some of those adults choose to use severe words of their own by the time they are fully grown.

All adults were once children and this will be the case until we can just grow humanity in a giant test tube. The children told to behave today will become the adults of tomorrow and those adults will have learnt that other people are hard to please - they won't necessarily have learnt any of the desired behaviour though.

What we remember as adults are the kind faces and the soft words. We remember the people who made us feel safe and whose presence brought light into a dark school day. We remember those people, even if we can no longer think of their names. And in the adult world, where the rules seem to change as often as they did at school, we are always looking for that one face, that one voice, which makes everything else all right again.

Be that person, even if it only happens for a moment in a crowded room.


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