It was January 2007. Several people in my class had been given their first mobile phones for Christmas. My best friend of the time, who I’ll call Jane, had downloaded some ringtone that repeated “Ginger Alert! Ginger Alert!” over and over again. Jane played it when a redhead in our class came near. Mrs P found out and blamed me for being a ‘bad influence’ on Jane and encouraging her to download it.
This was nonsense. I’d never heard the thing before and my parents didn’t even let me take my phone to school. I lost more golden time* than Jane did for this incident.
As a visibly autistic child, I was subjected to many of these incidents, when I was demonised and blamed for things I had nothing to do with because I was different. Sadly, these tales are all too common for neurodivergent people. Society uses us as scapegoats rather than dealing with the real problems, and that has very real and visible effects upon the neurodivergent community.
When the media paints a picture of neurodivergent people as ‘dangerous’, ‘unpredictable’, ‘potential mass murderers’ and advocates for restricting our human rights and locking us up, the natural response is for even the most pacifistic neurodivergent person to be viewed with suspicion by others in their life. Neurodivergent people are blamed for things we did not do as it is a convenient lie – we are expected to be bad, therefore when something bad happens it is our fault.
At some point in that same year, when the weather wasn’t terrible, we had cycling proficiency classes to teach us how to cycle on roads once a week, on a Friday. One ‘Friday’ I arrive at the school and tie my bike to the fence. Jane is late. The other people from my class arrive and tie their bikes up. I notice there is no space for Jane’s. So, I go back to mine and try to make room for hers, in order to be nice. But it’s complicated and it makes me late as well. When I try to explain, Mrs P outright calls me a liar (which hurt even more as I was telling the truth) and I lose golden time.
You know what they say, no good deed goes unpunished.
Unknown date. A boy in the class I’ll call Ross makes a fist and holds it up to my face like he’s about to punch me. I don’t know he’s faking and in panic and self-defence I shove him away from me and run. One of his friends sees. They go and tell the teacher. Mrs P again doesn’t believe that he made the fist and I lose golden time for pushing him.
There were more.
I hated that year, and that teacher. I was made to feel like a horrible, nasty person who couldn’t do anything right. When you tell someone, especially a child, something over and over again they begin to believe it. I began to believe that everything was my fault. I started blaming everything that went wrong on myself. The following year, Jane’s father banned her from being friends with me because I wasn’t religious and I was a ‘bad influence’. I believed the latter, though I found the former quite irrelevant and still do.
I started to compulsively apologise for everything and to everything, including inanimate objects. I felt like everything I touched went wrong. I started to think my existence was harming the world somehow and I deserved all the pain society gave me. I hated everything about myself, and everything that happened was always MY fault.
These days, people are often criticised harshly for apologising too frequently. Articles full of interview tips warn us not to apologise, as it makes us seem weak, uncertain, insincere, etc. Apologies have become associated with negative qualities. They are either seen as an admission of weakness, or as insufficient.
These feelings still persist. When things go wrong I invariably, once I calm down, start blaming myself regardless of who was in the wrong. I will apologise and try to fix things when it is the other person that should be apologising. I let people get away with doing and saying horrible things because it can’t be their fault there’s a problem, it’s always my fault. And if someone does not accept my apology, then it is a sign that I am the worst type of person and should never have been born.
I can no longer (if I ever could, I guess we’ll never know) tell whether something is my fault or not. The subconscious reaction of self-blame overrides everything else and clouds my judgement so much I can’t see my metaphorical finger in front of my face. Which means I am incredibly vulnerable to gaslighting as I will just assume I’m in the wrong. I hate arguments because they mean I need to beat myself up for a week after for being wrong, for starting it because I must be wrong, it’s me, and I am a terrible person.
This is the real effect society’s scapegoating and demonising of neurodivergent people has had on me. The entire idea of ‘different’ being equal to ‘wrong’ that is so prevalent in our society leads people to behave in a hateful manner to others not like them. The effects this has on those on the receiving end can last a long time, even whole lives. You can never tell what effect your actions will have on another person, and you can never tell how long the impression will last.
I don’t know how to move on from this blame game I play with myself, in which no matter what happens I lose. People eventually learn that I’ll blame myself if they leave it more than a few hours, and so nobody ever apologises to me for any wrongs they’ve done. They just wait until I think it’s my fault and apologise to them, and then they win whatever argument was had, regardless of who was right. And sometimes I finally realise this and then resentment builds up – but if I let it out then I just blame myself for losing control.
The truth has been twisted and distorted and thrown out more often than I can count. All these accusations and misinterpretations and unjust punishments in my past have created a future where I cannot see the truth for the self-hatred designed by a teacher who despised me for no reason other than I was different.
*Golden time was the last half-hour of the school day on a Friday where we did ‘fun’ things, but you could lose certain amounts of it for misbehaviour.