Why You Will Find Me at the Edge of the Playground

I am autistic. I am 26 years old and grew up in a time where the solution to autism was to be sent to a group home. My mother was often ridiculed by doctors and called a bad parent for not doing so.

When I was about 5 years old she sat me down. I don’t often have faces and people in my memories but this is one memory where I remember her clearly. She said to me “You have autism. We don’t have all the answers but from this moment on you and I are a team. And no matter what I am always going to let you try. I know we will find all the pieces to this puzzle together.” This was long before puzzle pieces were the face of autism, before anyone knew what it was.

This will forever be the most pivotal moment of my childhood. Because even though doctors kept telling me I would never succeed, my mom always had the same answer. “Let her try.” And so I found the strength to try. For every life skill I was told I would never accomplish became a personal challenge. Neurologists told me I would never tie my shoes, ride a bike, or go to college. I took a different road and began my journey of setting out to prove everyone wrong. I have now done all three of those things.


I am not a parent. But what I can give you is a glimpse into my childhood. By now I think everyone is familiar with sensory issues. I would like to discuss the things that worry parents and how I overcame them. Mostly, to ease your minds and let you know that it is okay if your child is playing at the edge of the playground.

The edge of the playground is where you could always find me. Walking in a straight line over and over gave me a sense of centering and attachment to this world. I often feel that I could at any moment float away and I am not fully grounded here. Spinning, jumping, body crashing, and walking in straight lines give me sense of security. It allows me to filter out the rest of the world and become a reset for my mind.

I also craved the edge of the playground because I was able to be alone. For me, I did not seek friendships at first. I am sure that to many, a child may appear lonely always playing by themselves. This was not the case for me. This was a way to have a break from the overload and social interactions going on throughout the day. At home I would line up Polly Pockets in my closet for endless hours by myself. Think of these behaviors as a type of meditation.

But encourage your children to leave the edge of the playground. Yes, that is where we are most comfortable. But the best things and accomplishments in life come from entering uncomfortable and new territory. Because the reality is no matter how much I want to, I cannot live my adult life in solitude successfully. I did not know that as a child. I now have very dear friends that I do not know how I would live without. They even cue me socially. I know the value of friendship. I would have never learned that had I not been shown what friendships had to offer me.

My mom would still allow me to line up Polly Pockets or walk the edge of the playground but she also slowly coaxed me into the center of the playground and taught me all the outside world has to offer. She knew this was challenging and that there would be times of failure. But she also knew that I had to challenge myself to fully know what I was capable of.

One of the first steps my mom took with me was teaching me how to climb the monkey bars. I wanted to do this so that I could take the first step of playing with other children but I did not have the gravitational security to do so. Every day after school she came the playground with me and helped me learn to climb them. My greatest fear was falling. But my mom always encouraged me.

“You will not fall, I am right here.” 

Finally, one day she had gained my full trust and she let go. And I climbed the monkey bars on my own for the first time.

My mom continued to do this with every challenge I faced. Letting me know she was ready if I felt I would fall but also teaching me that I needed to try for myself first. If it became too much then we adjusted and we modified. Eventually, just as she let go with the monkey bars, she let go entirely. Now I am able to navigate life on my own advocating for myself, while also still knowing I have my family’s support if I ever fall.


Life is a series of monkey bars. We all face unique challenges but the important thing is we try first. If we try and it is too much then step back and try a different way. I always tried to do each life event the regular way first. It did not always work and there were many times I had to do things differently than typically functioning. But you cannot know if it will unless you give it a shot.

I will forever be grateful to my mom for showing me the rest of the playground. I know there will always be monkey bars in life that I am faced with but I now realize that I have the capability to try. My overall advice to parents out there is that doctors cannot fully know what your child is capable of in this life. All autistics move on the spectrum and there is no way to predict how far each of us will move throughout our lives. The only way to know is to not limit us by assuming certain things and to try.


IMG_4848Mikhaela is an adult on the autism spectrum and creator of Edge of the Playground. This website is meant to share a glimpse inside the autistic experience for those not on the spectrum and provide roadmaps and advice for those that are. Mikhaela was diagnosed with autism when she was 5 years old and has spent her life finding strategies in major transitions and ways to be successful and independent. She hopes to share those now.

Mikhaela attended both college and law school and currently works in a corporate setting. Her goal is to assist others on the spectrum looking for roadmaps for transitions she has already gone through and create a community of support. She recognizes that the spectrum is vast and wants to include all without leaving those who need more intensive daily assistance behind. Mikhaela enjoys traveling, photography, writing, and yoga.

Website: https://edgeoftheplayground.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/PlaygroundEdge

20 Replies to “Why You Will Find Me at the Edge of the Playground”

  1. Mikhaela, thank you for sharing from your own experience. I am one of the grandmothers of Meghan’s children. One is nonverbal and the other has serious language problems. It is so difficult guessing what is going on in their minds in order to respond appropriately. It is enormously comforting to hear from an adult who has made this journey safely. I wish you all the best and will watch for more of your writing!

    1. Even once I was verbal, I had difficulty expressing what I was feeling and going on in my head or why I was melting down because of the intensity of the sensory. I myself often didn’t know. I am so happy to now be able to convey it so others might have a better roadmap than I did.

    2. Don’t be scared to go outside typical communication if someone has trouble with language. Maybe gestures are more their thing? Words are complicated, you can’t just throw them in a bundle, you have to line them up in the way others expect them to be lined up, or else they won’t mean what you mean.

      How would you cope being dropped in China with only google translate? You can’t type anything in for translation, voice recognition is unreliable and inaccurate and even if you get arouns all that, you still don’t know the order the words go in!

      Eventually you would learn Chinese, given enough time and oportunity. Encouragement and/or engagement with others would improve how fast you learn, but you will never speak, even after years, if you don’t feel people are willing to listen and accept your mistakes.

      But eventually, if enough positive influences are presented while using the language (or hearing it used) you’ll start to enjoy hearing it, using it even, arranging all those words and sounds neatly to communicate what you need and, as you grow more fluent, even what you feel and think.

      I feel (and all I have is my own experience and what I’ve read about other’s experience) that to a fair amount of autistics, any language is Chinese. It might just be that it’s not the most natural way for our autistic minds to communicate? Can’t say for sure. But I can say that many of my Autistic peers learned to speak late, but fluently and eloquently. Not everyone will reach the same level of fluency of course, but many of us have proven the doubters wrong, defied the prognosis, because we weren’t forced to stay within the conventions.

      Can’t hurt trying to introduce gesturing (kindly and carefully of course) who knows, you might have some very talented potential sign language users there! And as for the verbal: If it comes it comes, if it doesn’t it doesn’t. Ultimately it’s not about the shape of form we communicate in, it’s about how we live our lives <3

      Lots of love from a self-taught multi-lingual Autistic lady.

      1. Absolutely amazing analogy! I feel that any language is Chinese to us because we process SO MUCH that we are not actually delayed necessarily but completely overwhelmed. So of course the brain isn’t able to naturally focus in on interpreting the one thing quickly because it is in fact picking up on everything intensely and on the same level. That is my personal experience/feeling.

        Thank you for the comment, again I really love how you explain that!

      2. Thank you for that explanation. The more I hear from autistic adults, the more I learn about my boys. Right now, I’ve found that Julian communicates best with pictures. So we’ve added that to a total language approach (with sign language and gestures).

        I’ve been reading a lot about gentleness and uplifting encouragement. Of course, I agree. But is that a reaction to the old ABA practices, or do you feel that autistic children are more emotionally fragile than NT children?

  2. Thankyou for sharing this with me, my son is currently under a paediatritian and it’s simple things like this that help to know I’m not on my own. Thankyou again xx

    1. I’m glad it helped! You most certainly are not alone even though it can feel like a lonely journey. I am working hard to build a community that facilitates conversation between both people on the spectrum and parents/families without either feeling unwelcome in the space. Together, we can achieve understanding and quality of life.

      1. I hope so, I find the children can be more accepting than the parents, K isn’t ever invited to birthday parties, and none of the parents will speak to me so it’s a very lonely time indeed 🙁 it’s definately a lack of understanding xx

  3. I am very sorry to hear that. Look out for some featured posts by my mom on my website as well about her experience raising me and advice/strategies for other parents as someone who has done it. I know she can give great insight to that and other issues.

  4. Wonderful entry. <3 It speaks to me. (Meow.) I, too, craved alone time, even — or especially — when there were other kids around.

    It calls to mind a family I know who has an autistic teenage daughter — and they just let her progress naturally, at her own pace, let her dip her toes into new situations first before stepping in fully. We need many, many more stories of how effective that approach is, rather than horror stories about parents forcing their kids into new levels of sensory hell long before they're ready *coughahem*AutismUncensored*coughcoughhairball*.

    The key, as noted herein, is to encourage, not use force.

    Thank you Mikhaela for writing, and thank you Meghan for sharing!!!

    1. I really love this article, and her other posts as well. I asked this question above, but I’d like your input as well….

      I’ve read a lot about gentleness and uplifting encouragement. Of course, I agree. But is that a reaction to the old ABA practices (and those books), or do you feel that autistic children are more emotionally fragile than NT children?

      1. I think it’s a good big dose of both. Emotional fragility is nearly assured in autistic children — and adults for that matter — because often times we simply don’t understand why someone is dumping on us. I personally get very confused and hurt when someone kicks me aside and won’t explain why. More and more cases of PTSD are cropping up among autistic adults who were subjected to ABA in their youth, and it’s because their basic human needs were denied to force their compliance with demands — they didn’t understand what they’d done to deserve such mistreatment.

        If I were you, I would also pose this question under the “#AskingAutistics” tag on Twitter and see what everyone else says.

      2. IMIO, we’re not more emotionally fragile than allistic people, we’re just more likely to be bombarded by emotional input because everything’s so much more intense for the vast majority of people on the autism spectrum. Of course, that’s just my take as one autistic person, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it gains a consensus.

  5. Thank you for this post. When my son was little, he would spend all of his time at the playground walking around the perimeter. Like your mom, sometimes I would let him do that and other times I would try to draw him into other activities. Even though he’s well beyond playground age now, it is so helpful to read someone else’s experience of how that behavior was helpful to them.

  6. Reblogged this on Edge of the Playground and commented:
    Thank you to Not An Autism Mom for featuring me this week and to everyone who has read my story so far! I am so humbled to have almost 400 Facebook shared in under a week and new followers here. I can’t wait to continue this journey with you all!

  7. I know this is a very old post but it spoke so much to me, I came across this as I was searching the net for answers to my son’s behavior and your post described it beautifully. My son just started kindergarten in his new school this Monday and all three days I have watched him at the edge of the playground. It broke me inside as I thought I was seeing upfront his struggles with group settings – all the other kids were effortlessly playing tag together while my son hung around by himself under a tree. However when I read this post, it gives me hope and a new belief that my son likely wants that time alone. As well, over time I can slowly look to help him take on playing as a way to try getting out of his comfort zone.

    Thank you for helping so many of us with your journey.

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