I am focusing here specifically on friendship and play. I will talk more about being literal and other issues in another blog.
I can’t remember much from this time, but my mum told me I was a happy, cheerful, giggly baby with a lot of energy. I was always smiling.
My mum also told me that as a toddler I enjoyed running around people in circles while giggling, I guess it was a little game that amused me. Although I was fine with cuddles as a baby, as a toddler I often resisted cuddles unless on my terms. I also often had very long tantrums when I did not get my way or had to be physically restrained in a pram. I often ran off and did not appear to have any anxiety (strange, considering how anxious I am as an adult!). Age 18 months I was with my mum in the toilets at LA airport. I suddenly decided to crawl under the door when my mum was not looking. One minute I was there, the next I was gone, and my mum had no idea where I was. She was terrified!. When she finally found me I was running through a crowd of people, giggling, completely oblivious to the panic I had caused and my name being called. Unlike other toddlers, I was not at all clingy, and boldly ventured forth. My mum later said she realised it was odd only after my brother was born, as he displayed the normal wariness of strangers that most young children experience.
I befriended a girl a year younger than me at nursery school. We enjoyed hiding under the chairs whenever a teacher walked by. My mum facilitated the friendship because she was friends with the girl’s mum, and they arranged playdates. However, once I started primary school we were no longer friends.
When I started school, I had no one to play with at play times. The teacher helped me interact by finding two older girls to be my playmates. At first this worked really well. Every break time we played dungeons. I can’t remember whether it was me or them who invented this game, but it was great fun!. We took it in turns to be the dungeon keeper and throw the others into the dungeon, which was at the corner of the playground. When it was my turn, I gave them imaginary stale bread and rotten carrots!. I expected that we would play this game forever and ever, but one day they had completely vanished and would not play this game anymore. I was then on my own. Periodically I would try and get their attention, for example I remember rolling on the ground during a school sport’s day when we were supposed to be paying attention to the teacher. I did this because I noticed the two older girls who used to play with me, and I wanted them to notice me and say hello, but they never did.
In year 1, I poked my tongue out at the girls sitting at my table, much to their annoyance. I also looked under the door at them in the toilets, which really upset them. One of the girls opened her mouth as if she were about to bite me, and I ran out of the toilets screaming and was about to run into the classroom, before the teacher put out her arm to stop me mid flight.
I told one girl that she would get really fat if she did not walk to school. My parents had been talking about the girl being driven to school when she lived only a short walk away, but I did not realise that you were not supposed to share this information with the girl herself. It was no surprise that she did not want to be my friend!
The year 1 teacher, at my mum’s first parent’s evening, told her she was concerned that I was not interacting with my peers, and that my mum could help by interacting more with the other mun’s at the school gate. The school therefore passed the buck to my parents, but didn’t do anything at school to help me with my social development.
Age 6 a girl who had just joined the school bought a favourite book into school with her, and she was showing everyone her new book in the playground. A group of girls were standing in a circle, and I approached them to see the book and to try and play. I am not too sure why I did this – it might have been just on impulse – but I tore the top corner of the book. The girl told a teaching assistant who told me to stay away, but I went back and tore the page corner again. And again. And again. Finally everyone was at the end of their tether, and an older girl was instructed to take me to the head teacher. I was in floods of tears. As punishment I had to sellotape the book back to together while everyone else got to watch TV.
Age 7, I would often walk round the classroom, pretending to be a steam train. I would ask kids to walk behind me, forming carriages. I did this while I was supposed to be working, but I was often so restless that I would not stay seated.
Age 8 I tried to get a reaction from other children by wetting myself in class. I know, this is gross!. I sat wetting myself on the seat at the table, and found it highly amusing when the other kids looked disgusted.
Outside of school I would approach other kids on holiday, with no fear, as I wanted to make friends and it was less stressful to try to do this on holiday. At school, I sometimes played with much younger kids. One of these kids, in my brother’s year, was also later diagnosed with autism. I had a very volatile relationship with this girl, and we more often than not annoyed each other, before being friends again and annoying everyone else by disrupting their play!
At home meanwhile my dad facilitated a friendship with the neighbour’s children, who were younger than me. I found it easier to play with younger kids because socially I was very immature. At first this worked well, and we raced each other on our bikes, or I made mud pies with the little girl who was 4 years younger than me. I sometimes talked to one of the kids through their hedge. Later on however, we formed gangs of about 3 kids each (I can’t remember whose idea that was), and one moment I sided with one gang, the next the other. Eventually they all turned on me, and one of the kids pushed me over on the grass in their garden.
With adults, I sometimes annoyed them by not stopping a game when it was no longer amusing them. For example, one time I was walking with my Uncle and Aunt. I pretended to be a crocodile by snapping at them and jumping up. At first my Uncle laughed but I did not stop and soon he’d had enough, but I did not get the hint. Eventually he snapped at me and my mum told me off. I ran home crying. On another occasion I told my Grandpa, while on a walk, a really long detailed story. At first he enjoyed listening to me, but then he’d had enough. However, I did not stop the story!. I found it really hard to stop even once I was told that I should stop. On another occasion, I kept on playing the recorder at an after school club, long after the other kids were telling me to stop as they were getting annoyed. I just laughed and carried on playing. I still sometimes struggle with this today, although I am now a bit more aware and able to mask this tendency when I’m out in public.
I finally made a friend in my peer group at school. My mum was on friendly terms with her mum, and so the friendship was facilitated by our parents. This girl, like me, was in the slow stream at school, which meant that she had learning support, although she was not, to my knowledge, autistic. Whenever she came over to my house for tea, she let me play with her at school all day, and I was so pleased that I had her all to myself as I was very possessive. However, when she went to her other friend’s house, she virtually ignored me and I ended up annoying her. I had annoyed her during young childhood too, before we made friends. I poked my tongue out at her, and one time, age 6, I crawled over to her on the classroom carpet during reading time and pinched her legs. I’m surprised she later put this behind her and still befriended me! On the days she came over to my house, my mum served us quiche and potato croquettes, which I loved, followed by yogurt fruit corners. I played teachers with the girl, and we took it in turns to either be the teacher, issuing out punishment, or the naughty kid. In the last year of primary I told the girl that we would get married age 20 and have kids. I really believed this would happen; just shows how naive I was at that age!. I also believed everything the girl told me. She often made up stories about the school being haunted, or the ground near a tree creaking because of ghosts. I took her at her word, but it did stimulate my imagination.
At school, when we were friends, the girl handed me bits of food from her lunchbox during lunch time. This was not allowed, so she passed her hand under the table when no teacher was looking, She handed me crisps and bits of wagon wheel. When we had fallen out, I did not receive her food offerings, so I tried to stay friends in part because of the food!
When we were not friends, I was often alone in the playground. I would run really fast round the field, screaming, or pretending to be an aeroplane with arms outstretched. I ran right through kid’s play, which really annoyed them, but I only found this even more amusing when they gave chase!. They could not catch me as I was so fast. I often annoyed kids in my class. A boy once retaliated by tripping me up in the playground, and one boy kicked me hard on the leg. Most of the time however I was not physically harmed by other kids.
I enjoyed helping the younger kids with their reading in year 6. Each child was allocated a child in year 1, who had to read us a story. I was told by the teachers that I was very good at this, something that I still remember with affection. However, one time I got told off for showing a book about puberty to year 1 children at break time, because I enjoyed educating them. The book was confiscated.
Outside of school I sometimes annoyed random strangers. On a few occasions on holiday in Stratford Upon Avon, I invented a game while my parents were drinking tea outside a cafe. I involved my brother in this naughty game, which was great fun for me, but not for the recipients. It involved running up to random strangers, tapping them on the back, and saying something very silly to them when they turned round, such as, ”would you like some chicken?” (totally random!). One time, on the bus, I kept stroking a woman’s hair. She gave me the most sour face when she got off the bus!
I generally played okay with my brother, but he was two years younger than me, and, well, my brother, so it was less demanding. We played teddy bear tea parties, which involved lining up all our cuddly animals, including my dolls, and walking them one by one round my toy tea set. I served them plastic food as well, and sometimes my animals annoyed my brother’s animals, or vice versa, and they got told off!. We also played with my brother’s toy cars and his Thomas the tank engine railway set.
In part 2, I will continue this timeline into teenage years and adulthood.