My autistic boy is going to make your life harder, but please try to understand him
Teaching is more than just a job. I know what it is to mark and plan into the small hours; to live in a hollow of exhaustion. I have felt the isolation and dread of a pile of unmarked books that must be marked deep in my bones.
I have been on the other side of the desk to an angry parent who has misunderstood or refuses to believe me; who blames me for something outside of my control. I know how hard that is. I know what it is to sacrifice your time, to put the needs of your loved ones second. I know.
My little boy is four years old. In September he will enter your classroom. He is thoughtful and guarded. If he feels anxious or overwhelmed, he will not talk – or he will shout nonsense words and repeat actions over and over.
My little boy loves the absurd. He loves nonsense games and word play and silly rhymes. Sometimes he gets ideas fixed in his mind and cannot separate from them. Sometimes he becomes so anxious, so inundated with information to process, that he ceases to function. He becomes bewildered, besieged, overpowered. He rails against the confusion, loses the ability to cope with simple things.
His little heart breaks a hundred times a day. Sometimes, anger and frustration spills from him. During those times, he is going to make your job much more difficult.
We do all we can to support him. We set boundaries where they are needed and make allowances only when they must be made. My son has good parents. But sometimes you will not be able to control him. You will despair of the noise, the disruption that he will cause. You will wonder if your classroom is the best place for him.
You might even lie awake, worrying that you have failed him; worrying about funding cuts; wondering if there is any way to support him while seeing to the needs of the other children in your class. I know. For that, I am sorry.
I know what it is to be in your position. I have walked the path that you are on. But I also know that I was naive before I lived with autism every day. I need you to see – to truly see – my little boy. If you engage him, his face lights up with wonder. When he is successful, his delight and joy are contagious. He loves space. He loves music. He needs routine like he needs oxygen.
He has a wonderful sense of humour. The memory of making him laugh can buoy your spirits on the darkest of days. If you listen to him he will always do something that will brighten your day.
I want you to know that he is our world. For every behaviour that is hard to manage, there are a dozen things that make him exceptional, valuable, worth your time. Most of all, I want you to know that I am not the angry parent on the other side of the desk. I am on your side, always. I only seek to help you understand the extraordinary little boy who you will help to shape. It is great responsibility – and an even greater privilege.
If you feel I am less than helpful – or it seems like I am barrier, not an ally – it is only because I am terrified. My son’s future is unknown. Whether he can cope in a mainstream classroom remains to be seen. There is so much that I fear: that the other children will not understand him; that they will be cruel; that making him fit into your classroom will be more than he can bear.
You have the power to dampen these fears; to make sure he is more than something that makes your job harder; more than a SEN statistic; more than an Ofsted buzzword. You have that power, and I do not. Please use it wisely.
Danielle Duggins is an ex English teacher and writes and blogs about parenting, autism, special educational needs and issues surrounding teaching. You can find her at someonesmum.co.uk or on Twitter at @mumsomeone.