When my daughter was young she was often referred to as being quirky. It wasn’t until she reached middle school that she was formally diagnosed as having Autism.
I began to notice when she was in preschool that she was different than the other kids in her classroom. I came in to her room one day early to pick her up and I noticed all the other little girls were playing together and she was off playing by herself. She seemed to be the odd child in the corner. This pattern continued throughout elementary school. Not by choice, she would have liked to play with the other kids, she just didn’t know how. Those social rules that come naturally to most of us didn’t to her.
At home she was obsessed with her dolls. The dolls became her friends. She would talk about them like they were real. There would be stories about one of them having a birthday or being sick or going on a field trip. We knew them all by name and there would always be at least one of them coming with us wherever we went. When most other girls her age could leave them at home she couldn’t. Her dolls absolutely had to go wherever she went. Again she looked like that odd girl carrying her doll with her.
She preferred to stay at home and going anywhere took a lot of planning. Every time we would go to a shopping mall she would flop outside the door and refuse to go in. If we did manage to get inside she would clutch my hand for dear life and cry. It wasn’t until much later that I realized it was the noise, the people, and the confusion she couldn’t stand. I wish back then someone could have explained to us how best to help a “quirky” girl.
Elementary school was challenging. She continued to lack social skills and couldn’t keep up with her peers. It was overwhelming and she was letting us know things were not right by have meltdowns every day after school. There was no place for a “quirky” girl to fit in.
It wasn’t until middle school that all of those quirky things she was doing turned into a diagnosis of Autism. She was now the “Autistic” girl. It came as no surprise to us. It just took a long time to get to the diagnosis.
Often times “quirky” girls are diagnosed much later than boys. They are labeled as being shy or nurturing or yes spoiled. Girls, especially girls that speak well, are skipped over and left to see if they’ll grow out of their quirkiness.
As for the diagnosis, it doesn’t change my daughter. She is still who she is. It does however make it easier to explain to the world why she is who she is.