Before A Kind of Spark was even an idea, I was living out Addie’s life in full. In year six I had a teacher (we’ll call her Mrs S) whose approach to teaching was that she wouldn’t give any child “special attention”. For an eleven-year-old autistic child, this was the start of my year of hell.
Stimming was banned in class as it was seen as disruptive. Anything I’d stim with would be snatched out of my hand or I’d be sent out of the classroom. If I didn’t answer a question quickly enough or didn’t know the answer, it would be shouted in my ear.
I remember how hard it was to grasp the concept of prime numbers and I ended up having a meltdown, so Mrs S kept me back instead of letting me play and then ended the extended lesson with “see, you didn’t need to get so worked up about it.”
If I had any arguments with friends, as children do, she would tell me I was untrustworthy and this is why people didn’t like me. I was being severely bullied at the time, but she was passing this off as my fault. Throughout that year my confidence disappeared, I didn’t speak in class and I had meltdowns every morning and night. My mum tried to go in and speak to the headteacher, but nothing really happened.
Because of this experience, I then turned into Keedie when I left school. For ten years I didn’t tell friends I was autistic, I masked at all times and then wondered why I couldn’t stay in a job for more than a year. I was heavily depressed, anxious all the time, tired and would have a breakdown which always ended with me quitting whatever job I had at the time. It was a long road to realising that most of my problems were down to masking.
Reading and watching A Kind of Spark was so incredibly important to me. I cried a lot at Addie’s experience with her teacher, as it was validation that I hadn’t been a bad child, I had just had an ableist teacher.
I also found comfort and relatability in Keedie and her struggles with masking, and how important it is to be authentic.
I adored sharing the book and series with my family and friends, as I can show them both Addie and Keedie and say “this is who I was, this is how I struggled, and this is how I survived.”
It gives people an insight into what I have been through as well as educating them about autism and how you should/shouldn’t treat autistic people.
My hope is that more schools and teachers will pick up this book and watch the series, and no child will ever go through what many autistic children have gone through.
I also hope that neurotypicals understand their ableist views (even if they don’t realise they are being ableist) and understand how harmful masking is.
Maybe then we can have a future where we are encouraged to be authentic instead of being asked to conform to neurotypical standards.
I didn’t have a Keedie growing up. I didn’t have someone who explained my autism to me because they too were autistic, someone who handed me ear defenders, when the world got too loud and understood my moods.
Reading this book, however, brought so much comfort to both my inner child and me as an adult.
We all go through hard times as autistic people, trying to get by in this world, but we all have a spark in us to make amazing things happen, and I thank Elle McNicoll and the cast for helping me see this.
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