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Living like an alien

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CHERYL KENNEDY

Cheryl has a BA (Hons) in Special Educational Needs and over 10 years of experience working with autistic individuals at their homes, specialist and mainstream schools, and business locations.
She has been featured regularly on BBC Three Counties Radio giving expert advice on how to manage your personal wellbeing.

I have not always been proud of myself, and I have not always liked myself.

For years I let the negative taunts from school (from peers and teachers) stay in the forefront of my mind. I let those voices replay, over and over again.


Yes, I was stupid. Yes, I was lazy and rude. Yes, I would never amount to anything because I didn’t work hard enough.

 

School was a living hell, desperately wanting to have a group of friends or even one special friend. Yet this seemed such a hard thing to achieve. I was liked by a few and avoided by most for being “weird”. No matter how hard I tried I would always do something wrong and cause people to be cross with me.


Sticks and stones would break my bones, but it was the names that really hurt me.

Struggling in social situations

I took those words with me into adulthood. I believed them and let them become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As I grew older, the shame grew bigger. I was carrying a dirty secret – I struggled to read, couldn’t write well, and in group social situations I had no clue what was happening. Where to stand, who to look at, what to say to keep a conversation going.

 

I misread situations, I told truths when polite society would tell a little white lie. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t fit into this social world.

 

Life in the adult world was just as confusing, only this time I was struggling to form relationships outside of work.

 

I struggled to find that balance between wanting to see someone too much and not making enough effort.

Becoming a parent changes nothing

Then I entered the world of parenting, and though “this is just crazy”. How do you teach a little person to make their way in the world when you have no clue yourself?

 

I didn’t know it at the time, but I found the baby stage so hard due to my sensory challenges. Toddler groups were loud and full of parents playing games of ‘my child is better than yours’.

 

So many friendship groups had already been formed. But how do you make friends when all people want to do is talk about their child, and you have zero interest in their child??

For many years I felt like a fraud, trying to keep a front at the school gates…..that I could help my child learn their spelling, words that on occasion I couldn’t even read, never mind spell.

 

I would live my life organised with military precision. Not because I was super-mum on the ball, but because if I didn’t, my world would fall apart, and the anxiety of life would take over and render me useless.

 

Nothing could be left to chance, every event was planned and timetabled. Living like this was physical and emotional exhaustion. Masking at its finest.

 

A life-changing diagnosis

That all changed when I finally received a dyslexia and autism diagnosis. I wasn’t broken at all, I just have a different way of working. Society is broken, not me.

It took a long time for me to trust myself again, to be proud of myself and most importantly be strong enough to say I am neurodiverse and I am enough just the way I am.

 

Since receiving an official diagnosis I have gone on to gain a 2:1 Degree in Special Educational Needs and after five attempts I am now the very proud owner of a Level 5 Maths GCSE.

I now use my past experiences to empower others and to educate those in leadership to understand trauma responses and unpick that all behaviour is communication.

 

When we see strengths, we see opportunities. Always look towards the strengths – that’s where the magic is.