Girl: Hello Mummy.
Mother: Hello Darling.
Girl: Mummy, I want to ask you some questions.
Mother: Ok – fire away!
Girl: Fire away?
Mother: Sorry Darling, silly Mummy. I meant please do ask your questions.
Girl: Oh. So why did you say “fire away” then?
Mother: It’s my fault, I sometimes forget that we have different ways of talking – it’s my mistake, sorry.
Girl: That’s ok, Mummy. Anyway, we were doing autistry as school – you know, the module on autism history, all about people like me but in the past, and I really didn’t understand it. You’re middle-to-almost old, so I thought you’d be a good person to ask, is that ok?
Mother: [Chuckles]. Middle-to-almost old, very funny!
Mother: Sorry – again. Yes, of course, I will try and answer any questions you have.
Girl: Ok, well first off – we were told that to be autistic the children had to go and see a Doctor – is that true?
Mother: Yes, Dear, that’s true.
Girl: But why?
Mother: So they could be told they were autistic.
Girl: But why a Doctor? Don’t we go to the Doctor when we’re ill?
Mother: Well, yes.
Girl: So why did children have to go to a Doctor when they weren’t poorly?
Mother: Um. Well, I guess it’s because they had a very different view of autism then.
Girl: Oh. Right. Really? That’s really, honestly true then, they used to think it was like being ill? I thought I’d heard wrong when we were told that they had to go to a Doctor.
Mother: I’m not quite sure if it was quite like that, but yes, children did have to go and see a Doctor.
Girl: Wow. Didn’t that make the kids feel bad?
Mother: I think it probably did sometimes, yes.
Girl: Well, that’s stupid then. Why make kids feel bad just for being autistic?
Mother: I don’t really know. I think actually lots of people did think it was bad to be autistic then.
Girl: How can you be bad just for being a person? That’s just silly!
Mother: Yes, I agree. It does seem silly!
Girl: Ok – well, my next question is about adults. Were there really and honestly and truly adults who didn’t know they were autistic until much later in life?
Mother: Yes, absolutely – really, quite a lot of adults actually.
Girl: How come?
Mother: Um – er – well, I suppose people didn’t realise.
Girl: Well, obviously – but how can people not realise? Was it less obvious then that it is now or something?
Mother: Um, no, I don’t think so. I think it’s because the Doctors years ago maybe didn’t understand autism in the way we do today? Or, some did, but some didn’t. Did you know that lots of them had hardly any training in understanding autism?
Girl: What? So they didn’t take autistry modules like I’m doing now?
Mother: Well, no. No one did.
Girl: No one?
Mother: No my love, those sorts of modules didn’t exist then.
Girl: So how did anyone ever understand anyone else who might be a bit different?
Mother: I’m not particularly sure that understanding was seen as very important back them.
Girl: That’s ridiculous – how can children be happy if they are not understood?
Mother: Well, I agree…but; well. I don’t know how to answer that. It seems obvious now, but it didn’t seem so obvious then – not to everyone, anyway. There were some people who did lots of campaigning to try and get more people to understand what it means to be autistic, but lots of people weren’t especially interested.
Girl: How come?
Mother: I really don’t know, Darling. I really don’t Things were very different back then.
Girl: Right. Ok. So, another question. Is it really true that lots of autistic children couldn’t go to the same schools as other kids – and that autistic adults weren’t allowed to go to work?
Mother: Well, it’s definitely true that lots of autistic children didn’t go to the same schools as other kids. It isn’t the case that adults weren’t allowed to work – more the case that they found it difficult to access work.
Girl: [Frowns]. Why? That doesn’t seem very fair on children like me. And autistic adults make brilliant employees, we know that.
Mother: Well, yes – they do today because there is so much more understanding of autism these days. Back then, when people didn’t really understand, things were much tougher for autistic people.
Girl: So – it all comes back to this understanding business?
Mother: Yes, I’d say so.
Girl: So tell me again why didn’t people want to understand? When it seems that a better understanding would mean happier autistic people, more autistic children going to schools, and adults being employed? And all it takes is what we do now – autistry modules taught by autistic teachers to all kids from day one at school, plus all the ‘share my life’ lessons that we all do that make school so much fun?
Mother: I don’t really know. It seems so simple when you put it like that.
Mother: Yes, my Darling?
Girl: People used to be really weird I reckon.
Mother: Yes, now that I think about it, I have to agree.