I was the perfectly behaved girl, but school traumatised me

TW: Bullying and Sexual Assault

It isn’t an easy topic to write about, but it’s necessary. Its been on my mind to write this post for a while. But one tweet I saw recently made me realise it was essential to talk about this, as I am not the only one. So thank you, Dr Sami Schalk. Although this tweet resonated with me a lot, my article will put this in the context of myself going through school as an undiagnosed autistic. Again, this is solely based on my experience, and it won’t be the same for every autistic. 

Okay, let’s get started. Many schools reward you if you are good and successful, but punish you if you’re bad or make mistakes. Being autistic, I took this very literally, and I thought If I’m good and don’t make any mistakes, then everything will be fine, and I won’t have a problem. However, this meant I developed a phobia of getting something wrong in class, and if I made a mistake, then I would fear being punished. It wasn’t clearly communicated to me (In a way I could understand as a child) that making mistakes is normal, and I could learn from them.

Consequently, I would never put my hand up in class and contributed as little as possible during group discussions. My focus was not to be noticed during lessons so that my mistakes could not be pointed out by anybody (as I feared punishment). It inhibited my learning as I thought the purpose of school was to always be right, rather than the opportunity to develop. I needed this explicitly explained to me due to my autism, as I thought only bad things would happen if I made a mistake or broke a rule.

As most children around me did not interpret the schools so literally, I was noticeably different for religiously following the school rules and was bullied for it. Again this added to the constant worry of getting in trouble for my mistakes, as I knew there was a high chance of experiencing bullying at some point during the day also (If not multiple times). Can you see how trauma might develop under these circumstances?

The most traumatic part about this was holding these beliefs once I left the school gate, thinking I would have no problems as long as I followed the rules and didn’t upset anybody through my mistakes. Going through life thinking that this was the norm meant I felt obliged always to say yes, and it was more important to please people than consider my own needs. So when I was pressured to be intermate with another person after initially saying no, I think you can imagine what happened next (I won’t go into details here).

I am not entirely blaming the behaviourist approach in school systems for this, but I do believe that it contributed. I was taught it was always the right thing to do what other people wanted, and it was implied that I would be punished otherwise from school, and nobody else contradicted this when I was growing up. It made me unable to advocate for myself or understand how to get out of these difficult situations. I should’ve been given these tools in school so that I could have protected myself in the real world, but being a people pleaser and always right was valued more. Nobody explained to me the nuances of neurotypical social communication. I know this issue impacts more people than just autistics, but the fear of making mistakes and people-pleasing in school can be dangerous in the long-term.

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