Learning is emotional


My last supervision was fantastic. Both supervisors were there. I was questioned intently; I gave firm, concise answers. I asked for clarification on questions I didn’t understand, or where meanings weren’t clear to me.  I stated my position with passion and conviction. They were happy – ‘excited’ – by how my project is developing.

Because. I had prepared well, and gone in ready to defend every point. I remembered to speak loudly and clearly. I remembered the words I’d chosen. I remembered to justify.

I felt good. I felt – ecstatic! I felt like I belonged.

My last meeting was – hideous. Eight (?) people in the room. A research group. Some of whom I’d met before. Introductions were made; areas of interest covered. A brief presentation – informative and engaging. We were then split into two groups for discussions. I couldn’t hear. I couldn’t interpret. I was asked questions – I couldn’t answer. I was asked about my previous research – I couldn’t answer.

But. There were not just two group conversations, but conversations within conversations. I couldn’t filter; I couldn’t isolate the one voice I was supposed to be listening to. The questions were vague not explicit (which fact do they want me to say?); the debate open and overwhelming; the expectations – unknown. My anxiety levels – already high as a first-time contributor to the group – rose and the pain in my ears from the blare, the blare of all the voices – rose.

I felt trapped. I felt confused. I felt exposed.

I felt like I didn’t belong. I. Did not. Belong.

These two events happened on the same day. Same person. Same subject. Competent and articulate in the first; hesitant and unconvincing in the second. Functioning well v functioning badly. In the same institution. My argument against functioning labels summed up in one day (Romana Tate wrote a great post a while ago on the implied differences between high and low functioning autism).

What was the impact? The first felt like I’d made progress; I was energised. The second like I was back at school; lost; stupid. The parallels between what I’m feeling at University, and the area that I’m researching are not lost on me.

How do our girls feel, from one lesson to the next; from one teacher to the next?

Which had the biggest impact? Without a doubt, the second. These people are kind and generous, and yet I came away feeling like I was not good enough, that I just didn’t fit in. I was yet again pulling away to the fringes, wanting to disappear, wanting to shutdown.

Which I did, after a week of sinking. I blamed myself instead of what my professional mentor calls the ‘hostile environment’. My autism and anxiety and sensory processing difficulties combined to overwhelm and impair my thinking, in a situation that involved newness and multiple inputs. Do our girls have similar experiences?

I came away frustrated and upset that I had not been able to function in that scenario, in that world. In that world where I knew my subject, where the people wanted me to be involved, where I was not ignored. How worse must it feel in school if any or all of those do not hold true? In lessons that make no sense; with teachers who do not believe a diagnosis; with peers who do not wish you well? How much harder is it to try to fit in? How much harder when you can’t?

I have been reminded that I don’t have to try to ‘fit in’ to that world as it is. That, actually, I can ask for adjustments to be made to enable me to participate. As an advocate for our #actuallyautistic girls I know this, yet I wasn’t able to advocate for myself at the time, and the feelings of failure and sadness stayed with me. Yesterday I had to stop working and take some time out to look after my mental health. I could choose to stop working. I could choose self-care.

What do our girls choose?


#lovelearning #inclusion