Blog written by Caitlin Kelly, Sydney, Australia.
Follow Caitlin on Twitter @historyfreako
I have always been ‘quirky’, an ‘old soul’ and ‘obsessive’ over history. At 4½ years old I assumed everyone had a mum who taught High School History and then found out at that tender age that this was not so.
My favorite topic at this time until about 7 years old was Ancient Egypt and the process of mummification. The look of disgust on my peers' faces while I passionately discussed how you remove the brain stays with me now, even if at the time I didn’t notice.
At nearly 31 years old, I am trying to work out the missing factors about myself. All these questions still linger: Why do I have issues with loud sounds? Why do I love Playdough and squishing things? Why do they calm me so? Why do I love history so intensely? And most frequently, Why do I feel like I’m an alien stuck on Earth?
When I say I feel like an alien, it's a complicated thing. My whole life I have struggled with making and keeping friends. The topics I was interested in were always seen as ‘morbid’ or ‘weird’ by my peers. I had some age-appropriate interests (Spice Girls, anyone?). But when you are excluded because you embrace difference and display it loudly, you can feel alone. Your brain feels like it's on a different wavelength. This was a foundation for learning empathy but also the beginning of struggles of identity and acceptance of myself.
Autism Spectrum Australia (https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/) states that the gap in diagnosis of people identifying as women against those identifying as males may be lessening, but I feel that there is still a long way to go.
In my experience when I went to see a psychiatrist in 2018 for a re-diagnosis of my mental health (I have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder previously) he was quite dismissive and kept throwing out different mental health diagnoses. ‘You could have borderline personality disorder. Or it's just your previously diagnosed anxiety and depression.’
When questioning him further and pointing out my many intersecting traits that can also be traits of autism, once again he was dismissive: ‘Yeah you could be, but I don't think we need to visit this.’
Autism Spectrum Australia has a factsheet of traits that girls and women have displayed when being diagnosed as autistic. Autism in women and girls is ‘overshadowed’ by a mental health (mis)diagnosis (for example, anxiety, depression, eating disorders). Such factors have, I feel, hindered me in getting an ‘official’ diagnosis and caused me to self-diagnose.
This can all come back to my love of history, stories and fictional worlds. Feeling out of place, especially as a child, I found solace in these stories – real and imagined. There are so many real-world stories that history as a subject can teach everyone. In the past 20 years the gap that used to exist where diverse histories were never told is finally being filled. And I am excited to learn and educate more people about these diverse stories. Whether they be on the LGBTQIA+ community, women’s history or people of colour, these stories need to be shared more fully to bring about an equitable society.
In Australia, greater acknowledgement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history has developed from their experiences and perspectives. But more needs to be done here to truly reconcile the past and make a better future for all.
My current profession is as an educator in the Early Child Education sector in NSW, Australia. I am always discussing with my peers and my children the importance of representation and my belief in teaching about diverse families, gender non-conformity and how to encourage this in play, and the fact that while we may look, speak and dress differently, we are all of humankind.
Having diverse stories can allow children to develop their empathy, their curiosity and engage their creativity, which is what we need to strive for. Being able to teach about neurodivergent historical figures and people alive today would give all children – especially girls on the spectrum – new role models. This helps them to feel less alone, different and socially/culturally unacceptable.
I can tell you now that little 4 ½ year old and the nearly 31-year-old me still need this. To be understood is vital and to be fully accepted can be everything.