It’s a small thing. So small.
We had just returned from the shops and you were bundled up warm in your winter coat. I helped you take it off and off you skipped, into the living room. I continued to unpack the shopping and it was a few minutes before I followed you.
And there they were, on the floor. Your shoes.
You had never taken them off before – not on your own. It was a small thing to most, so small. Most children your age managed it a few years ago. Your baby sister has already learned to take hers off. At the grand old age of three years and nearly five months, you are the last of your classmates to achieve it.
Last week, we visited the preschool room of your nursery, where you are overdue to move up. The other children move when they are three but you have needed, still need, longer. We went to observe, to see where you would need support. They explained how the children take off their own shoes, hang up their own coats, collect their own plates and glasses and serve their own food, pour their own drinks.
And I crumbled, for a little while. I struggled to pay attention, listen to your new key-person. My voice cracked as I tried to ask questions, be the parent I was expected to be. I turned away, pretending to scrutinise the dress-up box, so that she would not see the tears in my eyes.
I crumbled because I knew that list of things, rattled off so matter-of-factly, was a list of mountains for you to climb. A list of things you would try – try so hard to do- but that most, most you would fail to do the first, second, fiftieth time you tried to do them. I could see you, trying to hang your coat, trying to pour your drink. I could see your coat fall, your squash spill. It made me so, so sad, for a little while.
We walked down through the orchards, to the play park on the farm: a beautiful place to grow, to learn. The pre-schoolers traipsed slowly but happily towards their destination, a rainbow of bright waterproofs and childish laughter. The uneven ground made them slip and giggle but they were never dismayed.
At the playpark they were a whirlwind of activity, chasing each other, climbing, balancing, sliding, holding hands, singing. I could see how overwhelming the journey, the colours, the noise, the interaction will be for you. In the winter sunshine, with the joy of youth bustling all around me, I was scared and sad for you.
I felt overcome with bitterness that those things – so easy for so many of your classmates – would be so hard for you. The unfairness of it prickled at me long into the evening. At every point in your day, you will be faced with something difficult.
My first instinct was that I needed to protect you from the pain of all that disappointment, shield you from the realisation that you are different. But it must come. You will have no choice but to overcome, or adapt, to the challenges the world presents to you. There are many things in this life that will be so hard for you, so easy for others. I know, in the long run, you will be better because of it.
You will be stronger than silly, crumbling mummy who nearly cried in the pre-school room. Stronger than anyone who has things come easily to them. Stronger even than I can imagine, I hope.
You will not be alone. I cannot shield you, but I can fight for you. Fight for the right support, fight for the opportunities to be given, fight for the right challenges to be set before you. And this is the right challenge to set.
There will be tears when you start the pre-school room. You will be scared and upset in an unfamiliar place, a different routine. You will be so frustrated that you cannot pour your drink, so angry that you tried so many times to get your coat on your peg. I will not always be there to help you, to comfort you, when those setbacks come. Sometimes people will not understand why some things are so hard, why they trigger such fury. But one day you will pour your own drink. One day you will get your coat on that peg.
And today, my beautiful, brilliant boy, you took off your shoes.
It is a symbol for how you keep trying. It is a symbol for every struggle you face, every difficult thing you learn to do. It is a sign of hope, a testament to your character. It shows that you can, and will climb those mountains, however long it takes, however many times you fail.
And it reminds me that I am so, so proud of you, every day, every hour, every second.
To read more about our autism journey, you might like The Things I Know