To the teachers who passed me by

To the teachers who passed me by, 

Six months after leaving Sixth Form I received a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder- a diagnosis I know none of you were expecting. I passed you by, and now I have been left to deal with the gruelling consequences. After years of persuading you that I was ‘fine’, I am now ready to share the reality of my time in school. The reality may be difficult to bear, but know that I am not blaming you for my missed diagnosis- I am simply enlightening you so that other autistic women can be caught before they ‘slip through the cracks’. 

From the outside, I probably presented as an ambitious student who worked hard to achieve high grades. I was continuously praised for my work ethic and dedication to my studies, but I would like to inform you that it wasn’t grades fuelling the revision- it was depression. Beneath the smile I was broken. The relentless revision enabled me to stay afloat for several years; the rigid routine helped me to block out any intrusive thoughts, but once the structure fell apart, so did I. This is the part you failed to see. Now, my grades feel entirely worthless. Yes, I worked incredibly hard to achieve straight As, but no letter could ever reflect the amount of long-term damage that this caused to my mental and physical health. Even now, over a year on, I am haunted by my time in school- the grades are simply a reminder of the relentless suffering that I endured. 

Despite my persisting battle with mental health, I arrived at school at the same time every morning, I sat in the same chair, at the same table, and for the most part, I sat alone. You were aware that I was struggling, but rarely did anyone ask how I was doing. My face was pale and my body was shutting down. Visibly, I was becoming weaker and weaker, but still I passed you by; still I went unnoticed. I fail to understand why you allowed me to deteriorate in front of your eyes- was it that you didn’t care, or did you genuinely not recognise my ill-health? The answer to this I will never know, but I severely hope that it wasn’t because academic success was of greater importance to you. 

Upon reflection, the signs of autism were obvious. Teachers had to be warned not to ask me questions during lessons, tears would leap to my eyes the moment anyone attempted to speak to me, and unfamiliar lesson plans caused me to shut down. I was practically crying out for help, but these warning signs failed to register with you- to you I was simply the ‘shy girl’. I now need you to understand that I was never just the ‘shy girl’, I was autistic. Part of me is angry that you missed this in me, but at the same time I recognise that I spent my entire time in education hiding behind a mask, disguising my differences. How were you to know that I was different if I portrayed myself as a neurotypical? 

As I explained towards the beginning of my letter, this is not a way of blaming you for my missed diagnosis, but I do hope to enlighten you so that other autistic women can be recognised and supported. My hope is for you to learn from my experience. I am incredibly proud to say that since my diagnosis, my therapist has sent several clients for an autism assessment, seven of which have been successful. For years I poured so much into the school without getting anything back, but the one way in which you could repay me would be for you to adopt the same determination as my therapist. We cannot let another autistic woman pass you by, so please, from today, start educating yourself about this hidden disability. 

Yours Sincerely, 

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