You’re starting school, which is ridiculous because you still need help with the last few mouthfuls of cereal at breakfast and you still don’t know how I manage to ‘swallow’ one of your toys and have it appear out of your ear. I swear it was only yesterday I was singing Puff the Magic Dragon to you five-million times as I crept out your bedroom after slooooowly laying you down in in your cot and desperately hoping you’d stay asleep for more than five minutes.
But you’re starting school and you’re excited about it and I’m excited, too…but I’m also petrified.
I think it’s a little scary for any parent when their child goes off to school but it’s especially scary when your child is different and you are different, Sweetheart, you just are (I am, too, if it helps).
I worry about you making friends. You’re so friendly and already desperate to fit in but you’re also…full-on. You think climbing on people and shoving things literally into their faces are friendly gestures rather than a complete invasion of space. You think talking at people in a continuous monologue of your every thought is the same as having a conversation with them.
Of course, you’re also incredibly smart and funny and quirky and kind. I just hope the other children can see that past the other stuff.
You take things so very personally. I’ve seen you have disputes with other children where you have both declared the other is not your friend anymore but, whilst they’re over it within five minutes, you’re still agonising over it days later.
I’m aware your fragile senses are going to be bombarded and overwhelmed. The noise of so many children all day, the smells in the lunch hall, the colourful classrooms, the feel of the alien school uniform (the school have, at least, agreed to you wearing a plain zip-up hoodie rather than a meltdown-inducing over-the-head sweatshirt). You will have to endure an onslaught of sensory information. I worry about how you’ll feel and – since you have a huge disconnect between your feelings and your awareness of those feelings – whether you’ll be in any way capable of communicating or explaining it.
I’m concerned the sensory overload combined with being around and having to deal with other people all day will completely exhaust you. After two sessions of five hours at nursery a week you are glassy eyed, deathly white and yawning as we leave. How will you cope with five full days a week?
I worry you’ll be overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the place. You’re going to a big school. Not just relatively big compared to you and the nursery you attended but actually a big primary school. You take after me with your sense of direction and memory for places, I’m afraid. It’s probably an autistic thing. People like us could get lost in a phone box (not that you’ve ever seen a phone box in all probability – I clearly need to update my stock phrases) and after a couple of visits I still get completely disorientated by your new school so I have no idea how you’ll manage. It’s not like I think your teacher will send you off by yourself into the maze of doors and stairs but if I feel anxious about having to find ‘the red gate’ to queue at with other reception parents, you – tiny human that you are – must surely be dumbfounded by the size of the place.
And there’s the other problem you’ve inherited from my side of the family: face blindness. I seem to have mild prosopagnosia but you have my dad’s severe version. You can’t recognise most of the children in your nursery class. You thought that Middle Eastern dude in the street a few weeks ago was your Caucasian uncle. You think anyone with a beard is Wolf’s boss and any woman with blonde hair is you uncle’s fiancee. If you struggle with family members I’m not sure you’ll be able to remember who your teacher or TA is, which will be fine if you’re in the classroom and the teacher will be ‘that lady telling you what to do’ but outside the classroom you may well feel bewildered by all the faces and not know who to ask for help.
Basically, I’m anxious you’ll be anxious.
I’ve seen you all distressed and small and vulnerable when out of the house before and it’s heartbreaking. You try to hide it just as you try to hide your autism and I worry it will work too well and nobody will help you because they won’t know anything’s wrong. You’ll put on your carefully crafted mask and they won’t know you’re terrified.
I know. I know when you’re fighting back tears even though it might just look like you’ve zoned out. I know when you’re getting anxious about a noise. I know when you’ve reached your limit and can’t socialise anymore.
I hope someone at school figures it out.
But I’m always here. I will always come to collect you at the end of the day and I will always be a phone call away if your teacher needs to contact me.
I’ll fight the school if you ever need me to (though, I hope I picked a school for you where that won’t be necessary).
If it ever came to it I’ll take you out of school altogether and home school you.
I’ll be here if you need me…but I hope you won’t.