From the day a child is born, it’s our job as parents to teach them the skills they need to survive in the world. Those first weeks of total reliance fly by and before long, they are taking their first shaky steps towards independence. This isn’t the case for all children because many are born with disabilities which make independence a more difficult, if not impossible, goal to achieve.
There are different disabilities. Some are evident and some are not. My youngest son has autism – the invisible disability.
I knew that S was very different to his brothers quite early on. He was late with his milestones, i.e still crawling when all of his peers at playgroup were walking. His challenging behaviour went way beyond the ‘terrible twos’. His ‘tantrums’ were unlike anything I’d experienced before. They were extreme and as bewildering for him as they were for me. Then there were his ‘quirks’ and obsessions..
My fear turned to relief when, at four years old, he was diagnosed with ASD and SPD (autistic spectrum disorder and sensory processing disorder). It made perfect sense and I was relieved that there was a medical explanation for his behaviour. However, an element of fear crept back in as I realised what the implications of his diagnosis could be.
Two years on, S has received the best support we could ask for. He has a statement in place at school and a support teacher who works closely with him for the majority of the school day. He’s also been approved a place at the local autistic children’s group. This is so he can spend a few hours on a weekend with other autistic children. While it’s primarily for him to spend time in an environment where he can comfortably be himself, it’s also to give OH and myself some needed time to ourselves. Parenting any child is hard work but parenting a child with special needs is exhausting and can test even the strongest of relationships. This is why we’ve taken the necessary steps to get support for us as a family, not just for S.
Autistic people are capable of amazing things. Many if the world’s greats, past and present, are considered to be on the autistic spectrum. I don’t see autism as a curse, I see it as a blessing, albeit a mixed one. The autistic person can see beauty where others cannot. They can feel music deeply and when they read a book, they become part of the story. Their obsessive nature means that when they like doing something, like art or music, they excell at it. S loves numbers and by the age of four, knew, off by heart, the entire twelve times table. This is classic autism.
In my heart, I dream that S remains as happy as he is now but in my head, I know it’s an impossible dream because the statistics speak for themselves.
Children with autism are four times (or more) likely to be bullied (at school or via the internet) because of the way they communicate and interact with their peers. Autistic children are generally more trusting, have a poor sense of danger and can be manipulated very easily. The differences between them and their peers become more apparent with age.
I’ve already witnessed incidents in parks and on the playground with children laughing at S instead of laughing with him, as he thinks they are. To him there’s no difference between playing with someone much younger than himself, or older. He has no social boundaries. He thinks it’s perfectly OK to barge in to a group of tweens (or older) and expect them to play with him. I can’t control what other children do or think, all I can do is help my son to develop the coping skills he needs in order to function. I want him to live, not just exist or be someone that he isn’t in order to fit in. The problem is with society, not him.
The challenging behaviour is a problem but it’s his reaction to an overwhelming world. It’s important to understand that. The behaviour has a function – there is always a reason. When my child displays challenging behaviour in front of other parents, it’s understanding that I need, not judgement.
In a perfect world, S wouldn’t have to learn how to ‘fit in’. He would be free to be himself and his quirks would be embraced instead of mocked. For instance, he came out of school last week and it was raining. He doesn’t like rain so he shouted at it. Parents stared. His peers stared. Wouldn’t they like to have the freedom of mind to be able to shout at the rain?
I wish the world was more empathetic to children like my son. But the truth is that people are selfish and cruel, choosing to boost their own self-esteem by demolishing someone else’s. They knowingly target the vulnerable with no regard of the long-term damage that they are inflicting on another human being. There is a lot of ignorance towards autism and I’m hoping, by spreading awareness, we can change this.
I can’t stop children being unkind to my son but I can intervene and give him strategies to cope. It’s because I was bullied by children and teachers, that I am extra vigilant. I am watching and ready to defend him. Education is the key to giving children an understanding of what it’s like to be different. How S’ autism is approached within the classroom, is something I will be addressing with the school, although I’ve had no real problems with them so far.
Like any mother, I just want my child to be happy.
My problem isn’t with my son, it’s with the people who don’t see him as I do – beautifully imperfect.