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When your child is different…

A couple of weeks ago, LD#1 went to play in a chess competition in Loughborough.

Both LDs have been playing chess since they were about 5.  Our county junior chess organisation sent some promotional leaflets around about some competitions they were running, and we went along and they’ve played on and off ever since.  Both of them played for the county girls’ Under 11s, and then the U14 teams, although LD#2 has now finally retired, as she would rather go to dance or athletics club in her spare time.

It’s quite a tough thing, playing chess and I think the kids have to be really brave!  Competitions are all day events, they have to play 6 1h games in a day!  And in an average competition, LD#1 would usually win about 3 games… but it still means that 3 out of 6 times, she’d end up losing the game after a whole hour’s tough concentration.  

The very first time we went along to one of the county competitions, LD#1 was 8 and it seemed that the whole place was teeming with hot housed kids from prep schools.  However, the Junior Chess organisation was really encouraging even though LD didn’t do very well, and we just ended up going along to more events, and she ended up improving.

It was also really important to me that LDs had the same opportunities that it seemed the little prep school children had been given, just by virtue of going to a school you had to pay for.  In those days I was only working part time and I felt all the time that there were so many things I couldn’t afford for my children, compared with what other children could have.  

It’s one of those things that time has given me perspective on.   By the time they get to 14, most of the little prep school kids (and LD#2!) have dispersed into hockey or music or whatever other interests their schools got them into at the age of 8.  The ones that are left are the ones that have a genuine interest in and ability for the game, which tends to be a mixture of state and privately educated children.  

The competition in Loughborough was LD’s first ever two day national one – this year she won the girls’ age group competition in Sussex, and then played well enough in the South of England regional final to qualify for the national.  

Here are some pictures of the nice grammar school that the competition was held in:



LD#2 stayed overnight with grandparents, and that left me and LD#1 to have a nice evening in a hotel.

Day 1 was quite successful, as LD won 2 of her 3 games. (Day 2 was another story – I think she was exhausted!) Afterwards, I had a swim in the hotel pool and then we had dinner, and hot chocolate, and we talked.  LD told me about how much she hated her primary school, and how shy she had been, which made me sad.  She got psychologically bullied by this horrible spoilt girl for much of primary school, although I didn’t find out until right at the end of primary school.  She did end up dealing with it in her own way though, which I think made her stronger, but still it’s really upsetting to know that you’ve had to send your child off somewhere they hate every day.

Yesterday, we went to the optician, and remembering how nice our dinner was, I took LD to have coffee in Waterstones afterwards.  Waterstones in Lewes is lovely.  You can sit in the window seat and drink coffee and eat cake, surrounded by books.  I said, “Why don’t you apply for a Saturday job here?  It would be amazing!” LD went all red and looked stressed and said she couldn’t do that because she would have to talk to people.

I said, “Why don’t you like talking to them?  Is it because you don’t like them, or because they make you anxious?”

In some ways, LD is really brave, like playing scary chess games and dealing with bullies.  But she’ll never give herself credit for anything, and she’s terrified that she won’t be good enough for other people.  She’s found a way of getting round her anxiety by being very terse and intellectual with people, especially adults, wearing DMs and a lot of black and thus generally discouraging run of the mill social interaction.  But she does acknowledge that her problem is going to affect her getting a job.  And as a parent, I’d just really like her to be able to enjoy social interaction so that she can make the most of sixth form and University, as I was never able to.

I think there’s always been something different inside her compared to her sister, and to other kids.  My child was always the one who was a bit odd, who would look away from strangers at the age of one if they noticed her, who didn’t speak in nursery school, who would get fixated about things in infant school and be upset if things didn’t arrange themselves the way she thought they should be, who couldn’t let go enough to join in with the other girls’ friendship circles in junior school (not helped by this other girl, who was deliberately excluding her.)  

It’s not, I don’t think, that she is on the autistic spectrum, as she shows a very mature intellectual understanding of other people’s motivations and reactions (and of her own).  She is just crippled by self consciousness and over awareness of the way she appears to others and it’s difficult to know what to do about it.  I tell her – you are the most important person in your life!  All those experiences are there for you to take, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks!  

But nothing is stronger than her self-consciousness.




  1. Rachael

    Your daughter sounds so much like my son in primary school and middle school it’s scary. He is not comfortable around people, although he has been around adults since he was 9 and exposed to them coming to the house for readings – he entertained the ones waiting for their turn. They love him. Being out with kids his own age has been a horrible experience for him because he doesn’t drink, do drugs or run wild. He had no self-confidence for years …… thought he screwed up everything he touched. He is a wonderful person as is your daughter. She will find her way through this and NO not autism – people are too quick to slap that label on someone – Ben definitely has mental health issues, and one part may be related to his anti-social leanings, but the other part, no. So he’s conflicted. He’s now applying for jobs again (thank God) and ready to move out of the house and get on his own. Of course, I have a new life, so that has brought good things to me and to my son ……… a chance for him to grow and a chance for me to live ……….. give her a hug and tell her to apply for that job. Thinking how bad it will be can only be overcoming by seeing how good it is. Love ya!

    • That’s how I see it – I see so much joy in living now and in the possibilities of everything that I don’t have time to be shy. It gets in the way of my curiosity.

      I find it odd to have been in that place and now be totally flipped out of it, yet it’s so impossible to just reach in and say to LD – it can be like this.

      It’s all gradual and slow with our kids’ developments but hopefully they will both get there in the end.

  2. equinoxio21

    Hi Denise. Nice blog. I’ve read your “about”…
    Welcome back to Life! 🙂
    Have a great week-end

  3. Oh Denise, what a worry our off spring can be! My son is also very shy around his own peer group, feels awkward with them but always interacted with adults fine. He’s an only child which probably created a part of this. However, he has forged his own path, works for himself and as you know, published a book this year. He doesn’t socialise much at all – doesn’t drink or do parties – he is till nervous around people yet he is organising and hosting a WW2 conference next month. He’s always been focused to the point of obsession on one interest at a time and has a thing about order.

    I’m never one to slap labels on kids but I think he has definite spectrum traits, as does your daughter – but that alone doesn’t make them autistic. I’m sure with a little more maturity LD will apply for a job – when she is ready. Perhaps shop work would be a step too far at the moment. A paper round would be a start, if a little lonely but it would begin to give her a work ethic. Don’t push sixth form and uni – some people just aren’t cut out for the student life. There are other ways to qualifications. Wishing you both the best – I’m sure she’ll be fine – but it might take a while and it might take you down a different route. Xx

    • LD’s dream Saturday job is on the checkout in the supermarket as talk will be minimal and as a mathematician/chess player she would be good at operating the till! Which I guess at least shows she pictures herself working, just that she is trying to accommodate her problem within her vision.
      I would have said definite spectrum traits for LD when she was younger – small things eg having a problem with the shoe shop lady measuring her feet. However she has been able to use her head to compensate for some of these aversions so that they are no longer noticeable, although I think she finds them stressful.

      I think there are jobs where some of the traits that Matthew shows would be so useful. It can be so difficult to get everything lined up, where someone’s personal and intellectual traits all work together to get you a job that works for them.

  4. Oh the poor thing, it sounds like she has *so* much going for her, yet it is so critical of herself she can’t see the good qualities. Whilst I was doing a bit of book research I discovered there are hundreds of websites aimed at helping boost self confidence. If it’s something she’s willing to admit to herself, then it’s definitely something she can overcome with a little nudge in the right direction… a cycle she can break if you will.

    Loughborough sounded fab, lovely QT with one of your girls. Well done to her for getting to play in this tournament 🙂

  5. Maria

    I’m sorry to hear that LD is going through this challenging period and I’m glad that she’s been able to tell you a little about her past. This is very important and a positive point that she’s opening up to you as her mother and her friend.

    I’m not a mother but I’ve worked with adolescents and as such noticed what helps them open up. It’s not uncommon for a young person to go through the issues/emotions that your daughter seems to be facing. She seems to be a very sensitive, intelligent young lady and a deep thinker. The fact that she’s opening up to you suggests that she may have more she wishes to discuss/reveal and that she’s testing the waters. It’s always nice to be asked “how do you see your life”? “How do you see yourself” “is there anything I can do to help you” and “what would you like to do”? It seems that having alone time with LD is important to her. I wonder why LD needs to be in control?

    • Thanks for the hints with things to say. I find it can be calming to have those patterns of phrases, not to rely too much on stock phrases of course, but just to frame what I want to say in the best way I can.

      I think you have interpreted LD spot on and also picked up on the way she is opening up a little at least. If you don’t know as a parent, you can’t help, but just to get the discussion out into the open can be an enormous hurdle.

  6. Denis, I am sure we are all different and at times we exposed to different thing. Nothing is wrong with it and I am sure that some time it either will change or remain along the way according to what you exposed too or meet along your route. However many children open up as they grow and beside LD have her own great qualities. I am sure that communicating and talking to each other slowly can help, some time they need direction. I am not an expert but I feel that good relation and confidence building in youngsters can help them to open up and understand their needs and our own understanding. I wish you good luck and we are always around to support you both.

    • Thank you so much for your words Doron and your support. I think you are right in that there is no quick fix and the important thing is to be patient and wait for her (and me) to grow. You learn a lot from your children.

      I like your philosophical approach. It is good to step back and remember to be patient. There are no answers, just our ways of developing into our own selves.

  7. It’s always a worry, when we think our children are going to have a hard time fulfilling their potential and being truly happy.

    I’m wondering how LD feels about her shyness. Does it make her unhappy that she isn’t more outgoing? Some people are perfectly comfortable with their shyness, meaning, they don’t really want to be not shy. They just aren’t crazy about interacting with people they don’t know.

    I was inordinately shy, and still can feel, deep inside myself, afraid to talk to people. As a child, until I was 9 or so, I would hide behind furniture when people I didn’t know came to the house. I was terrified to speak to adults, and would always wait for other children to approach me, I never made the first move.

    It bothered me. I wanted to be more outgoing. Little, by little by little, I became outgoing. What helped me the most was theater–learning to play a role. I learned to act and discovered that I could “act” like anyone I wanted to pretend to be. I could “act” like a sports nut or a beauty queen or a nincompoop, or a Miss Piggy or Kermit the Frog. Then I figured out that in real life, I can act like someone who isn’t shy.

    Most of the time now, after years of acting, it’s no longer a role I play, but has become second nature. Still, there are times when that old terror rears it’s head and I can’t bring myself to address a stranger.

    • I sure hope that didn’t sound like I’m minimizing the discomfort and well-founded fears about what might happen, or not, because of her self-consciousness. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m not sure all that “acting” made me any happier in my own skin. And I’m wondering what kinds of opportunities it gave me, that I wouldn’t have otherwise had.

      LD sounds like a truly lovely, sensitive person. And I’ve come to believe that being “different” is a good thing, that we all would be happier if we had the courage to be who we really, authentically ARE — especially if we’re patiently and carefully also trying to grow into our better selves.

      • Hi Tracy.
        No of course I did not think that you were minimising anything! You should know I would never think that about you!
        It is just that I am totally unfamiliar with acting and it is one of the things in the world I can’t do at all.
        I am however familiar with the feeling of wanting to be more outgoing and I think we come from within the same place. It almost felt to me when I was unsocial that there was a thick skin around me and the real me could not break its way through but was destined to stay forever locked inside.
        I do feel grateful for all the connections I have made blogging. It is a bit like all of our locked insides are able to communicate with other people’s locked insides.
        Hope you are well.

  8. Interesting – I think perhaps I had the same results, but for the opposite reasons: I wanted to interact with other people, but I wasn’t any good at it – I didn’t have a very good understanding of why people act in one way rather than another. In my case, a combination of egocentrism and nihilism helped (maybe) but that is probably not the most healthy set of personality traits to encourage. But what Tracy says rings true – a lot of this comes down to realising that everyone else appears to be more confident than you do; acting as if you’re not shy is eventually the same as being not shy, despite how you feel on the inside.

    • This has never struck me about you since I’ve known you!!

      I was never any good at interacting with other people, but this is because my parents have no social skills or understanding of the way other people/the world works. Even as a child I could tell that their advice was suspect. I figured that my best chances lay between ignoring what they were saying or doing the exact opposite. Unfortunately, a complicating factor was that very occasionally, they were right. My main strategy was to imitate others, which is never a good look. i was socially anxious because quite often, people didn’t respond well socially to me. As soon as someone gave me the key (“relax, you don’t need to know all the answers” and then later “relax, and be open”) the social problem was pretty much solved.

      I’m pretty much thrown by the fact that Rhiannon hasn’t had to contend with quite the same degree of parental oddness but is still anxious. But I guess it doesn’t matter at all what the reason behind the anxiety is, all the strategies mentioned here are still valid, and more importantly, that lots of other people a) feel the same and b) as shown here, have dealt with the problem successfully.

  9. Hi Denise,
    Of course, reading this you know how I can well understand your concerns and also how your daughter feels. I do resonate very much with the way she wears black, remembering the way Aspie D used to dress in ways that gave the message ‘don’t talk to me’ yet also brought attention to herself, which of course she hated. Over the years I’ve tried to explain to AD that I struggled terribly with shyness and social anxiety so that she can see that she isn’t alone. Her becoming socially avoidant after taking her btec in art and design at our local sixth form college, as you well know, hasn’t gone away for three years now. She wants to return to further education (has aspirations of becoming a psychiatrist) but there was no way she was ready for university when her tutors were pressuring her after college. One thing I’ve come to understand is that she is very mature in many ways but a late-bloomer in others. It may be that LD has some autistic traits (I’m sure that my boys do but it hasn’t stopped them from working and socialising ‘normally’ – whatever normal is!). Aspie D has a dreadful self-image problem, despite me saying all the same things as you say to your daughter, as we both know, no matter what we say, they have to believe it within themselves. Interestingly thought, it is Aspie D who has taught me to believe in my self, to have the courage of my convictions, as she picked up long ago that I am riddled with self-doubt and second guess myself all the time. I wish I had more answers for you, but I do feel confident that LD will go on and find her way as she navigates through her school years – and I’m so sorry for that awful bully, oh what damage is done. There is nothing worse than knowing our children have been hurt like that, it’s agony and so, so sad. I wish I could say that we are out the other end but I can’t so I’m not much of an example really, struggling as I do over my worry for Aspie D every day, but just know that I’m here and I understand. Oh, and I love playing chess, haven’t done so for years though! Good for your LD’s, you have a beautiful family Denise, I know that, and you are a wonderful mum. Have hope, you are on the right path 🙂

  10. LD sounds so much like me. I was terrified, absolutely terrified of getting my first job. I was socially awkward, hated the thought of having to talk/communicate with both customers and people who worked with me but honestly if I hadn’t of done it I would be just as bad now, if not worse. Not that I’m amazingly confident and feel I can do anything now but ten times better than if I hadn’t. I think sometime it’s bthe fear of the unknown that gets at us more than the actual act. I remember starting on a till straight after my training (which was only about half an hour!) and my manager telling me that throwing me in at the deep end would be better in the long run. He was right and it’s a principle I use myself now. A scary moment out of your depth can be so much better than a long drawn out and often painful do a bit here and a bit there training. I wish LD all the best in getting her first part time job. Seriously, if I can do it she can!!

    • You don’t strike me as at all shy, and it is so comforting to hear your story. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine anyone shyer than my daughter.

      What a wise manager you had! there’s something about being totally immersed in an activity that makes you forget about the people and being self conscious about them, I think.

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