I have been wanting to write a letter to myself as a child for a while now and Autistic Pride Day seemed like the perfect day to do it. As I thought about what I would say to myself if I could reach back in time, I realized that there is not one single “me as a child.” So this is a letter to many of my past selves over time.
I have tried to write in ways I would have understood at different ages. If I could only give one message to myself at any age, it would be this, “stop taking the blame for the bad things other people do to you.” I was so hard on myself. Why? Because others were hard on me. How ridiculous is that? Over and over, I punished myself for what other people did to me. So I got punished twice. I want to apologize to myself for making everything even harder than it had to be. And I want to forgive myself, too. I was just trying to survive a difficult life with the “tools” I had.
Dear Sparrow at three-years-old:
You are such a good girl! I love it when you are happy and singing. I see how hard you try to always do the right thing. Always remember that I love you and that you are such a good girl.
Dear Sparrow at seven-years-old:
I am so sorry about how school has turned out for you. I remember when you were four years old and so excited on your birthday because you were finally old enough to go to school. Going to school was almost all you could think about. And then it happened and it didn’t live up to your expectations at all. The teachers are teaching things you already know and the other students don’t treat you well. Sometimes the teacher doesn’t treat you very good, either.
I will tell you a secret: those other students are treating you badly because they don’t understand you and that scares them. I will tell you another secret: don’t tell the other students that you know that! Whenever you know something that helps you put up with how hard life is, don’t share that with the people who are making your life hard because they will just make fun of it and find ways to take that away from you. Knowing that they are treating you mean because they don’t understand and are afraid is like having a secret shield to protect you from feeling as bad when they are mean. Don’t let them know you have that shield.
Sometimes people you trust are telling you that the bullying you are getting is your own fault and that if you could act more like the other kids, they wouldn’t bully you. Don’t believe that it is your fault! It is not your fault that you are being bullied by others; it is their fault that they are bullies! There are things you don’t understand and what do you do? You try to learn more. You don’t turn into a meanie about it. So you know that the other kids could stop being bullies if they wanted to, but they are choosing the lazy way of staying afraid and not learning about you. Isn’t that sad for them? This is your secret shield to help you stay strong when they get mean. Never tell them, but just know inside yourself that they are being mean because they are too lazy to learn a better way to be. It’s okay to feel sorry for them. Feel sorry for them in secret. It’s part of your shield.
Yes, you really are different from the other students. That doesn’t make you wrong. It doesn’t mean you should try to change who you are. There is nothing wrong with being different and hopefully some day those other students will learn that. Right now, I want you to learn it. Being different doesn’t make the bullying your fault. Being different is not “bringing it all on yourself.” And those people who say you “insist on being different” or are trying to “show off” are wrong You are different because you were bon that way. Never be ashamed of being different. Be proud of who you are!
Just pay attention to the things you have control over. Try to be a good person. Try to do your school work as well as you can. And remember your secret shield and stay strong behind it.
Dear Sparrow at twelve-years-old:
Your life is changing so much! Everything is going to be different in middle school. Try to talk to an adult you trust about the things that are hard for you. Tell them how much it hurts to write with a pen or pencil. They ‘know that your handwriting is really bad but they don’t know that it causes you pain to write. You haven’t told them because you didn’t realize that the way writing feels to you is not the way it feels to everybody. Tell them that it hurts. And if they don’t hear you or don’t understand, tell them again. You have a condition called dysgraphia and that’s why you have been having a hard time getting your school work done. If your parents and teachers can understand that you have a handwriting disability, they can get you help. Or maybe they will start letting you type your school work like you’ve been asking to do for so long. They just have to understand that it hurts and they can’t understand until you tell them.
Middle school is going to be harder so you need to get ready for it. You need an IEP plan. You can’t be expected to know what that is, but if you tell your parents and teachers about the things that are hard for you and try to tell as much detail as you can, they can work for you and get a plan in place so that you can get help with the hard things, like handwriting. Tell them how the other students treat you. It’s just going to get harder for you next year, so you need to make sure the adults understand right now what is happening. No adult is with you in every class, every minute, so you have to tell them about the things they weren’t there to see. They don’t know what is happening when they aren’t around.
You have such a bright future waiting for you and an adult life where you will not be stuck all day with people who treat you badly. You will have a life where you can make choices for yourself and the more you are able to get help right now with the things that are hard for you, the brighter your future is going to be. Stay strong. Remember your secret shields. Get trusted adults to help you with the things that are hard.
There are things I would like to say to myself at fifteen-years-old, but it starts getting too intense and too personal at that point for me to feel ready to share with others. If I were to give enough advice and encouragement to myself before that point, maybe my teen years wouldn’t be so hard anyway. Who knows what my adult years would look like?
At 48 years old, I’ve finally managed to carve out a life that makes me happy. It doesn’t look very much like the American Dream. But it suits me well. If I could send these letters, and so many more, back in time to my younger self, maybe I wouldn’t have had to wait this long to figure out where I fit in this world.
But there is no time machine hidden inside a mailbox. This is my life and I am happy with where I’ve ended up. Would I have wished for other things? Yes. Yes, the life I wanted is so different from the life I have. But I’ve found a happy place in this life and I’m grateful. I can’t really send letters to my younger self, but I can write them. And she’s still here, inside me. She’s reading these letters. She’s healing every day.