Autism, School, Acceptance and Love

My wonderful wife wrote this post this evening expressing the challenges we have had this year with regard to schooling for our 12 year old autistic son…ImageI am mother to a child that is very different to other children. He has sensory differences, thought processing differences, social differences, and language differences, just to name a few. He struggles to fit in with people and understand what they are expecting or wanting from him. He has difficulties expressing what he wants from them. He takes things literally so when someone says ‘Reach for the stars young man’ He says ‘How, the closest is 4.2 light years away?!’ 

He is bright, funny, cheeky, clever, and endearing just like all other children. He has dreams, aspirations and feelings just as others do. He can be happy, sad, frustrated and hurt just like others can. And just like all children he can be naughty, sneaky and challenging. How do I know? Well I also have adult children who were once not so ‘adult’. 

Now my child and I have walked a tough road these last 5 months. There has been unbridled despair, utter fear and confusion, heartache, disappointment, many tears and much conversation about why people, both children and adults, can be so mean and intolerant. I’ve been challenged by questions that have made me reflect on ‘why’ we as adults make so many ‘rules’ that really only serve a selfish purpose when relating to children. Why one person will permit something whilst another so adamantly will not?! For a child with Autism there is no logic, no sense to the expectations and demands of society. 

For a child with Autism, the world is fraught with uncertainty and trepidation. How can they know what you want, what you feel, what you expect, what you mean? Every situation requires something different from them, but they aren’t sure what that is. I can not tell you how many times my child has said ‘I’m confused, I don’t understand what’s happening’ when others have been giving simple instruction. 

The answer, well, it really is quite simple. It’s as simple as routine, communicating, understanding and predictability. You know how you write a ‘to do’ list, or manage your diary, write an agenda etc? Well that is exactly what a person with Autism needs. You know how you like to grab your tea cup from the same cupboard, pour your milk before adding your coffee, have your groceries delivered each Wednesday morning? That predictability and consistency? That’s what a person with Autism needs. You know how we strive to reach other peoples expectations, whether they be our managers, pastors, partners? We subconsciously know what they are, a person with Autism can’t know. They can’t guess, strive for or even understand what you expect. They can either do what you ‘ask’ or not. They need to be encouraged to try. They don’t understand ‘you need to be in it to win it’.

This is our story;
We enrolled our son into a Private Christian School late last year that assured us they could provide the nurture, love, education and structure that our son needed. Needless to say they failed miserably to even make it through first term. I won’t go into details but what happened was appalling. For my friends outside of Australia, our country doesn’t look after it’s children with different abilities well. We have limited special needs classes with limited placements, but high demand. Our teachers are not trained to teach our special needs children within mainstream classes, so life in the classroom is challenging for both child and teacher. Government funding for our children within schools is minimal and resources are scarce or non existent, even in the private sector. Let me say there are some amazing teachers out there, but all it really takes is more kindness, understanding and flexibility to hit the mark. 

These last few weeks my child and I have walked a beautiful road to healing for him and restored hope in Australia’s Education System for me. Two weeks ago I enrolled my son into our local Public Primary School. My purpose was not to have him attend, but to have them fill in required paperwork for ASD classes for 2015 and/or Distance Education. Parents cannot apply for either, it must come from the Principal directly. The school is small, like 50 students, 4 teachers and rural. The principal listened to our story and was genuinely interested in doing whatever he could to help. My son and I went to visit with him, have a look around and have an open, honest conversation about the experience my child had earlier this year and the challenges that lay ahead if they were to have him join them. My child is not shy in telling you what he can/can’t do. There is no filter when he speaks, so he is very direct and says it how it is. It was heartbreaking to hear him speak. 

Over these two weeks we have been slowly transitioning him back into school life. He’s not full time yet, however has experience unconditional acceptance. He has been invited to play, and participate with all grades with no judgement, teasing, physical aggression or threats towards him. The teachers have been so beautifully caring and encouraging with him that it has left me overwhelmed with gratitude. He has been so broken and frightened that to see him step forward with courage has been inspiring. He has grown in understanding of his differences and that there are kind people who will accept him and allow him to ‘fit in’ even when there is difference. As a mother that is peace to my soul, strength to my heart. 

The lesson I have learnt in this process is that Private and Christian is not always best. Sometimes those within these institutions are so much less godlike and accepting of what doesn’t fit their ideal. I’m disappointed and forever changed by the road my son and I have walked this year. My eyes are open wider to the inconsistencies of people professing to be Christian yet so unloving. 

I am thankful for my government, local public school, staff and children who truly love as God did and does.

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