Spiders eat Flies - Autism Chapter 9
Spiders Eat Flies
As a child I always wanted to teach. By the time I was 11 I knew I wanted to be a special needs teacher, and by the time I was 14 I was already volunteering at my local special needs youth club once a week. At school I worked hard, kept myself to myself and strived to be the best I could be. I had a goal, an ambition. I was determined to make a difference.
Then there was Sharon. A girl in my year. I’m not sure when we first realised she was different, maybe like a pack of wolves we had always known, been able to sense the outsider. But at 14 in Drama class, was the first time anyone sat down and explained Sharon to us. Sharon it turned out had Asperger’s (a form of Autsim). Understanding is a powerful thing, and for the first time she had allies, a group of us who may not in our naivety have fully understood her needs, but who cared enough to at least try. In Drama class she never lacked for a partner, and on GCSE results day I know I wasn’t the only one who was more concerned about whether Sharon had achieved her C in the class than whether I had gained my A.
The rest of school however was not so kind. Teenage boys, always ready for a laugh chased her round the building, whispering ‘fly’ in her ear. Sharon would run away screaming. The boys would laugh. They had found a weakness as teenagers so often do, exploited a difference and regaled in the pleasure. Fast forward twenty years and my own daughter has a similar reaction to spiders. She is in short petrified by the mere mention of them, scours an area for their presence and won’t go in a room that contains even the tiniest speck of black fluff just in case it’s one of the dreaded beasts.
We are however lucky. We have two more precious years before high school. Two years to desensitise her, to help her find coping strategies, to help her to learn to hide the fear. Two years to stop her going through the hell that I witnessed as a teenager.
Right now she hates me for making her feed her guinea pig even if there is a tiny spider in the cage. It takes a meltdown, a lot of screaming, tears and more often than not the threat of a punishment, but in the end it’s done. She hates me for making her wash the spider in the shower down the plughole, and for making her wait if she thinks there’s a spider on her ceiling. She hates that I won’t deal with it until she is calm. ‘How can I be calm?’ She Asks. ‘It’s a Spider!’ In truth I don’t feel calm either. I am causing her anxiety I could so easily avoid.
But in my head I see those boys chasing a teenage girl. Laughing. Not realising the consequences of their actions. I know how easy it would be for history to repeat itself. This time with my daughter. So I carry on; risking her hatred. Hoping and praying that in two years time it will only by the flies that are teased by the spiders.