A day in the life of Alexis Quinn March 2019
My day starts at about 04:30am. Nobody minds my early rise as I live on my own with my daughter and housekeeper. My clothes are organised meticulously from colour coded socks to folded underpants so it doesn’t take long before I've donned the necessary and head out for my daily 10km run.
I place my key, to my front door, under the carpet and head out. I’ve not always been allowed my own key. I’ve not always been allowed to open or close a door.
In fact, I spent almost 4 years begging for the right to leave a building in order to breath fresh air, asking to leave a room and requesting trousers and shoes in order to run.
“What on earth did you do?” you might be thinking.
“What crime did you commit?”
My crime is to think and process information differently. I am autistic. This means that when I fall too far from the ‘norm’ I might be detained because there isn’t the community provision to manage my difference.
So each day, when I leave home and lock the door to my home I think how lucky I am. I remember that there are people like me being detained for their difference and so I thank my lucky stars that at present, I am enjoying relative freedom.
When I get home I get my daughter, Abidemi, up for school and we shower together. Whilst she is changing, I make her packed lunch for school and then prepare breakfast. Abi trots down stairs at about 6:00am for breakfast. She eats and reads her school book.
I manage all these tasks because I have been running and because the routine is mine. Nobody tells me what to do or how to do it. My sensory system is thankful for the run and performs the routine like clockwork.
Abidemi boards the school bus and I leave for school in the car. I work to my timetable and I work to the sound of the school bell. My classes are structured and I prepare thoroughly. They are meaningful and challenging. The children and I are both invested in making sure they succeed and reach their potential.
Throughout the day little ‘needs’ pop up that remind me of the life I lost and now have.
Children put their hand up to go to the toilet. I consider that just 2 years ago I was also asking for this basic human right. But I wasn’t 7 years old. I was 27. And like the child, I wasn’t always allowed.
A child will come to me requesting I tie their shoe laces. I muse that this was skill I hadn’t practiced for 3 years because I wasn’t allowed laces. Hell, sometimes I wasn’t even allowed shoes.
Sometimes a child asks me to open the changing rooms to allow them to get to their clothes. I realise I often didn’t have access to my clothes or even the room I was allocated for an entire day, sometimes longer.
And of course, children fall. And I comfort them; they cry and I hold them; they tell me they are sad and I listen to them. I give genuine love, care and support to these kids knowing how it feels to be denied it.
At lunchtime I leave the heavily guarded school gates to get lunch. My stomach still turns each time the padlocks are opened and the lever slides over the lock. I remind myself that I am free here. I can leave when I want and pick up my lunch. I walk to the cafe and choose my meal.
Choice is a great thing. I haven't always been able to decide what I want to eat.
I leave the shop and head back to the guarded walls of school. It still feels weird and uncomfortable to willingly enter a locked area but I'm getting used to it. The gates and high walls are there to protect the children of important families. The children I teach are affluent and privileged. The gates are not there for me.
When the final bell rings and all my lessons for the day are over, I get in the car and go home. My home.
When home, I run or swim. I decide. It depends how I feel on the day.
After exercise I eat sooner, or I eat later. It depends how hungry I feel. Maybe I'll have vegetables or perhaps I’ll eat carbs. I let my cook know. I tell her that ‘such and such a dish’ is what I fancy today. Abidemi does the same.
I usually take Abi to football or karate or gymnastics. It depends what day it is.
After dinner I might read quietly or go out and see friends. It depends if I feel tired or sociable. It depends how Abi feels as well. Sometimes we like to watch Star Wars together or draw pictures. We have our set routines. It suits us both. Choice, sameness and love are at the route of much that we do.
Then, when the day is done, I take Abi upstairs and read to her. She likes the same book every day. And that’s ok. When she falls asleep at about 7:30pm I go to sleep too. I am exhausted and ‘full up’ from the day. I know my night won’t be as settled as my day.
My dreams are frequently disturbed by flashbacks. I relive the harmful abuse, the horrors of inpatient life.
I try to forget but cannot.
I relive how staff undertook those actions yet do not accept those actions as harmful or something they were actively responsible for. Like locking me in a freezing cold seclusion room for hours was an unfortunate accident.
And following the flashback, whilst I am calming myself drinking a hot tea, I wonder how staff make my suffering just distant enough that they can live well with the violence that they enacted. I wonder if their dreams are as disturbed as mine.
You see my escape and release from section did not mark immediate freedom. I am still angry and bitter and suffer daily. True freedom will take a great deal longer to achieve. If indeed I ever achieve it.
People like me - autistic people - aren't always afforded the same rights as others. This is wrong. And so I spend my days developing young minds. I work to try and instil in children a sense of justice and accountability.
I teach children to question one another and themselves. I urge them to reflect on their behaviour and that of the class. I encourage them to reject acts which distort human relationships.
I foster these skills in the hope that one day, if they need to, they will understand their social responsibility and do more than engage in a complex form of dissonance in which they disengage from their own actions, while simultaneously acknowledging that they took them.
And this is how I manage to get back to sleep at night - I go to bed knowing that I have made a positive difference to tomorrow’s generation and pray that my bad dreams will not be something another generation of autistic people endure.