What they didn’t tell me

TW: mentions of abuse, therapy, etc.

When you are a child, they teach you to comply. Deviate from that and you will be punished, sometimes abusively so. This goes for most children, but specifically is relevant to Autistic children.

I was not diagnosed as a child, but I did know I was very different from my so-called “peers”. I had no desire to communicate with people who called me names, who hurled ableist slurs my way. It was very clear very early that I was not a neurotypical child, and it was a good eight years of testing before anyone placed a label on me, and even then it was wrong (kind of…I still have ADHD symptoms, so I cannot say that diagnosis was wholly inaccurate, but it wasn’t the only neurodivergence I had). Despite not having a label, I was told how to behave. I was told that adults were to be obeyed, not questioned. I know this is true for most children, but it was most certainly true for me, possibly more than my NT peers.

Because my NT peers figured out what they never told me. They never told me I was allowed to say no. They never told me that I maintained autonomy over myself and that I could decide things for myself. They never expected me to amount to much, so why would they tell me this? Why would they tell me that I could stand up to bullies? That I could stand up to adults, even my own parents, if they hurt me?

I was taught to be nice. To be compliant.

I still have trouble saying no.

Today, I am nearly 32 years old. A relative of one of my son’s classmates stopped me today for a ride to the school, where I was not going. I nearly missed meeting the bus, and all because I couldn’t say no. I made a few other social faux pas during that 25 minute car ride. But I’m still struck by the fact that no matter how much I yell “don’t treat Autistic adults like children”, I still see myself in a way that isn’t quite as “grown up” as my peers. This woman was likely a good 5 years younger than me, but I still saw her as an “elder”, not a “peer”. Is that internalized ableism? I don’t know. What I do know is it sucks.


2 thoughts on “What they didn’t tell me

  1. I can relate to this so much. I also apologise too much; I’ve actually started almost STARTING a conversation with “sorry”, it’s practically a greeting, and that’s a habit I need to get out of. Also, I’ve always had issues with asking permission or asking for information that I feel like I should probably already know, or explaining a problem, because I don’t want to cause a fuss over nothing. Maybe this is why.


  2. Exactly. I am still undiagnosed but I still never ever realize I can say no. I let 2 year olds figuratively walk all over me, too. I was never taught how to say no or decline. If I did at all, which was and still is rare, I always give in and explain why not, which the other person tries to pick holes in and then guilt trips me into it, anyway. I got a telemarketer call this morning and didn’t realize until a minute into it that I can just hang up, no bye or other refusal necessary. Even if I was taught how, I doubt I could pick up on when it was ok to say no and when it might risk a job or something important.


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