The road from childhood to adulthood inevitably involves traversing that strange country of adolescence. This is a region full of change ,turbulence and uncharted waters. The number of bumps and obstacles that any individual encounters will vary. Fortunately even the most unruly, unprepossessing teenagers usually eventually make it through the storm and the rocky road to become balanced, stable, conventional and well rounded adults .
For children with Autistic Spectrum disorders(ASD)the whole process of change from child to adult is fraught with major difficulties,not least because for one of the major features of this condition is resistance to change and a like for sameness. Many young people with ASD find the physical, social and psychological changes of adolescence overwhelming and there is a higher than average incidence of development of mental health problems at this time.
Carol-Anne was one such child.A lively ,energetic and inquisitive toddler it was only when she started school at the age of 5 that a few alarm bells began to ring. She found it difficult to mix with other children finding playtime and other unstructured times frightening and unsettling. By the age of 11 Carol-Anne's female peers were already growing up fast moving into that “tweenager” of pop music, makeup and fashion but Carol Anne wanted to sremain in the familiarity of of childhood continuing to wear dresses and play with dolls. This meant that the gap between Carol-Anne and her peer group widened and she became increasingly isolated. Carol-Anne loved routines and hated change and she would frequently ask to “go back small again” not liking the changes she was experiencing in her body.
One day Carol Anne saw an advertisement for “anti aging cream” and nagged her mother persistently to buy it for her thinking it would literally halt her progress to adulthood. By the age of 13 her peers were frequently making comments like “odd” and “freak” and her teachers reports contained terms like “extreme emotional immaturity” and “challenging behaviour”. An assessment by a clinical psychologist resulted in a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndome a type of high functioning autism. Although this condition is more common in boys it is seen in both sexes. In girls the diagnosis is often made in adolescence as rapid change in physical appearance and psychological adjustment needed can result in behaviour problems and bullying.
Simply having a diagnosis unfortunately did not bring relief to Carol Anne . She was provided with a Statement of special educational needs but remained unable to cope with mainstream schooling . She began to refuse to go to school and slipped secretly into self harm and dieting in an attempt to gain control of her emotions .
From the age of 15 years Carol Anne spent many months in psychiatric hospitals . Tragically Carol Anne never reached adulthood dying at the age of 17 years .
This poem is written in memory of Carol Anne and I dedicate it to all those young people who like never made it through the adolescent storm.
A bouquet for Carol-Anne
for your 18th Birthday
A white lily for your beauty
Lovely pure and innocent
Purple freesias for your scent
Spreading fragrance through a room
Gossamer babies breath,
so fragile and vulnerable
Golden daffodils for the colour of your hair
And the sunlight of your smile
The joy you brought year after year
Apple blossom red turning quickly to white
So beautiful yet so transient
Like your life
A single red rose bud for your suffering
Tender petals tightly closed
Sharp thorns for pain
Looking so perfect on the outside
But not letting people see inside.
Pink carnations of course
For a girl
who will never be an adult
Yes, my precious child
I will see you in the flowers
I will hold you in my dreams
In the bouquet
I will remember you
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