To My Autistic Child Starting School

Tyger,

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.

At least the school are fine with you wearing a zip-up hoodie instead of a meltdown-inducing sweatshirt.
This one little symbol gives me hope your school will be understanding.

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.

Love

Mummy

 

 

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14 Comments


  1. Looking at it from the other side of the fence (and much bigger children), I’m glad you are a Mum who wants the best and is willing to fight for it. Always keep an open dialogue with the school, know that they too want the best for him, and work to be part of a team.
    It sounds as if they are really switched on at the school and they will welcome your input and knowledge.

    If after that, they start getting ornery, then dig your heels in and fight the good fight!

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  2. This is a beautiful letter. Best of luck for Tyger! I hope his school are welcoming and he finds it a good experience. 🙂

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  3. Loved reading this. My youngest starts school tomorrow too, and I keep swaying from excitement to total fear.
    I hope it goes well for Tyger, and the school is everything you’ve hoped for

    #SpectrumSunday

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  4. I can completely understand how anxious you are feeling about this and I really hope your little one settles into school well. It is a big thing for every child but it must be quite scary for those with Autism, particularly the sensory overload. I’m glad the school has agreed to the hoodie, and I think just keep talking with them if you have any concerns. #marvmondays

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  5. This is such a sweet post. I have the exact same thoughts and fears about my boy starting nursery and I know it’ll be the same when he starts school. I can only imagine the knot in your stomach as your son walks off on his first day but I’m sure he’ll really enjoy it. He’ll make plenty of friends and as long as the teachers have an understanding of autism they’ll do their best make him comfortable. It’s a nerve wracking time for every parent and you’re so right that they grow so quickly. If only we could go back to the nights of creeping slowly out of their rooms again x #bigpinklink

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  6. I understand al these feelings and have been both sides of the fence. If it is any consolation I know most teachers really are kind and caring an really do want to help your child although many teachers may not know how. So tell the teacher. Make an appointment and make it clear. Communication is key. My boy is going into year 7 this year. I don;t know where that time has gone. We never thought he’d get beyond year 2. Good luck! ? #BigPinkLink #spectrumsunday

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  7. This is just a beautiful letter, where you’ve laid out all your worries so succinctly. I’m worried about my eldest going to school next year, and he doesn’t have autism, so I can’t imagine how you must be feeling at the moment. Like you say, the school are showing good signs of being understanding, by allowing the uniform to be altered. And like somebody commented above, hopefully the teacher will give you some time to explain exactly what they need to do to make your son’s life easier. I really hope he gets on well (I’ve made similar promises to myself that I’m going to take mine out of school and home school them too-if they hate it.) x
    #bigpinklink

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  8. This is beautiful and so emotional. Many parents feel emotions like yours when your child is starting school. It is so touching to read this post. We have had to move schools after only a term as my 4 year old struggled so much with the size of his school. Its a horrible thought of them going out into the big wide world without us. Thank you for sharing #MarvMondays

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  9. Awww he’s so lucky to have you. We had our specialist health visitor over to today and bombarded her with questions about support when he goes to school. She laughed and told us not to worry, we still had two years to go but she was wrong, it goes so very fast #MarvMondays

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  10. You are bound to be anxious. It’s such a big step for all children and made even more so for children who have additional needs. As a teacher and a parent of a child with autism I understand this from both points of view. The school will hopefully figure it out fairly quickly and I’m sure they will want to make things as smooth and easy as possible for him and you. Hope it all goes well! #bigpinklink

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  11. I was terrifed when my eldest started mainstream school – he has autism and albinism so he has a vision impairment too and I could not imagine how he was going to cope. But he did. We worked hard with the school to put supports in place and we still keep in close contact. He is off to high school next year which is terrifying me again! But I know, somehow, he will be okay. All the best to you and to Tyger x

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  12. Ahhh this really hits home with me – Biggest (also autistic) isn’t 4 until next month and we have a year until school but I already feel like he won’t be ready and have so many anxieties about it. In fact, I just wrote a post about it, scheduled for Thursday! I really hope he settles in and at this time next year you are able to reassure me that it will be fine! Good luck to you both #bigpinklink

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  13. There is so much to worry about but I’m glad at least you are both excited about it too. We’ve definitely been through it. Keep us posted and good luck xxx Thanks for linking to #spectrumsunday

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