Your recent story Bus, Paddle, Belt struck a chord with me, as it reminded me very strongly of my own childhood. I read your website frequently, and have never before read a story so similar to my own.
For context, I was finally diagnosed as autistic only in 2003, as a 46-year-old man. Growing up in the 1960s in a black, working class British household, I was written off as ‘difficult’ and ‘naughty’.
Like the writer in the other story, I sometimes misbehaved out of boredom – only later on in life did I realise that this was because my brain was wired completely differently to those of my peers, and suddenly made it all make sense. I would also ‘misbehave’ due to my own individual needs being different to those rigidly mandated.
When it came to discipline at home, my dad used the belt – and my mum used whatever she could get her hands on!
I also got a ‘shorts duster’ from a local policeman when I was about seven and ‘ran away from home’. In reality, I had just been very late coming home – I was obsessed with butterflies (due to my autism) and got very distracted looking at some moths.
When the copper found me, and I explained the situation to him, he pulled me straight across his lap and gave me ten or so enormously hard smacks before dragging me back home by my ear. I was more put out about not getting to observe the moths any longer than I was about the smacked bottom he gave me – although the belting I received from my father, once I got home, was more serious and hurt a great deal more.
School was where most of my punishments happened, though. I was very bright but struggled to concentrate on lessons that didn’t interest me – and no amount of punishment nor praise could change that, due to my neurotype. I was thus frustrating to teach; bored, fidgety, sometimes loud and distracting.
I was also the only black child in my 40-strong class, and never had a black teacher during my entire education. Between my race, gender and autism, I was chastised often, and hard.
The most common punishment I received in primary school was the slipper. I seemed to get slippered nearly every day – sometimes it would just be one or two smacks, sometimes it would be a full eight or ten strokes.
Random slaps and smacks to my bottom or legs were common, but these rolled off me like water from a duck’s back.
I also received the cane, getting my first taste when I was just six years old. The cane was blindingly painful, and left rigid welts across my buttocks for days, if not weeks. When I moved up to secondary comprehensive, the cane became the exclusive punishment, and I got my last dose when I was 14, not long before I left school.
Looking back now, I can’t help but feel sad about the way I was treated during my school years, thanks to both the lack of recognition of autism and explicit racism within the education system. In the children’s TV series Grange Hill, the black boy Benny had plenty of friends but in real life, I was lonely and miserable.
I did grow up to very much enjoy the feeling of a slipper across my bottom, though – so I suppose it’s not all bad!