Letter to an autistic middle school student

This is something that should’ve been the very first post I wrote on this blog. So much of this site amounts to me trying to say to others the things I wish I’d heard growing up. However I’ve never really condensed that into one entry. I think it’s time. I can’t reach back in time and tell myself this advice but I can reach out to kids struggling in my situation today. So here goes. 

To a middle school student struggling with life with autism,

I want you to know that I’ve been there. To a degree I was one of the first. My generation was the one that started to understand what autism is and that it impacts a larger number than thought. As a result I got a lot of imperfect advice. My advice is also imperfect but it comes from a place of experience. 

First off, I know it’s hard to be you and anybody who tells you otherwise is wrong. It’s hard to be a “normal” middle schooler so we have it extra hard. Middle school is a painful time. Know that your feelings are completely valid. Yes, it is stressful. No it’s not just you wanting attention.

I’m sure your social life is hard. After all you’ve had it pounded into your head that being popular matters. You’re probably lonely with only a few friends. My advice: only worry about those few friends. Being popular is exhausting and ultimately meaningless. The few friends you have matter. Besides you’re so close to high school where you’ll find your world. Have hope. You’ll flourish there. 

I hope you’re not being bullied but I’m all too aware you likely are. I was. Being bullied hurt and it will leave scars. But it won’t continue. It rarely follows you to high school. You’re angry and irritable. So is everyone else. It’ll ease up. But for now, a counselor is useful to have. 

You’re probably really frustrated by all the rules of life that don’t make much sense. Well, I don’t blame you but I’ve got bad news. Just because we see how silly these rules are doesn’t mean that we get to ignore them. We’ve got to abide by them just like everyone else. Just play along and laugh about it in your head. 

You probably have something you’re into. Hold onto that because if you’re still interested in a few years, that’s your career. Seriously, whatever you’re really passionate about now you can find a job in. We’re even popular with employers due to that. I followed a love of newspapers to a job at one for example.

Cherish that you live in the technology age. You are so lucky. I had to fight legally to use a computer for my work while you’re handed tablets. So many of our struggles with fine motor are erased because you get to use these miracles. Be happy. 

You worry about being an adult. I know. I did. Here’s what nobody tells you: it doesn’t happen all at once. Take growing up in steps. You’ll get there. Go to college, even leaving home if you can. Find a job close by your home. Build your life in steps. But don’t fear that you can’t do it. You can. 

No advice I have is more important than this. It does get better. I know it’s hard to see now but it truly does. Whatever bothers you now, you will outgrow it. It’s possible to do well. I thought I was never going to get married or have a child. I’ve done both. I have my own life. I didn’t think I could do it. No matter how much you think you can’t, you’re going to be surprised. In time you’ll find yourself doing just fine. But it takes time. 

Life is hard. It never does make sense. But that’s not an autism problem. That’s a human problem. Keep fighting. Know that you matter. You’ll get where you’re going. I believe it. 

Austin Shinn