The Thief of Joy

Feature image for The Thief of Joy. A boy lookd out over a green landscape and a blue sky.

My son is four years old.  Fifty-three months. Two hundred and twelve weeks.

Every six months, we attend a developmental review at his preschool. Every six months, we look at which Early Years Foundation Stage objectives he has met. Every six months, there are some that never change:

16 – 24 months

  • Plays alongside others
  • Is aware of others’ feelings

16-24 months. 16-24 months. 16-24 months.

For three years, his ability to form relationships and recognise emotions has stayed the same – or, at least, advanced so slowly that it cannot be reflected in the objectives.

“I think we need to accept that there are some objectives that he may never meet, Mrs Duggins.”

For three years, I have watched other children learn to get dressed, learn to pour drinks, learn to make friends. I have watched my son’s baby sister overtake him, accomplish things with ease that he finds impossible. I have learned to deal with the toxicity of my feelings. I have learned to not to let sorrow overwhelm me, to stop the rage of “It’s not fair” and “Why us?” taint our lives, smother our happiness. Comparison is the thief of joy.

Some days it is hard. Some days I see little boys and girls on bikes, speeding down hills, their faces lit up with exhilaration. Some days I watch children deep in conversation, lost in a world of shared wonder. Some days I see friendships forming, adventures beginning. I hear other parents discuss what their children doing, the trials of each new stage –  and I am forced to compare. I am forced to compare because there is always a gap.

Could he do that? Oh goodness, look what that little girl can do! She must be younger than him. It will be years before he can do that. Try as I might to stifle those thoughts, I am only human.

Sometimes it hits like a slap in the face.

It is a crisp Friday afternoon. I have driven the winding roads to the preschool. I have rung the bell and waited to be let in, just like every Friday. But today, my gorgeous boy runs to me and pulls me over to potted twig with cardboard leaves hanging from it, swaying in the draught. There, on the twig, is a cardboard leaf with his name on.

Friendships leaf saying 'offered his friend a book when he was feeling sad'.  The thief of Joy.

“Mummy I saw my friend was sad and Louise asked me how we could cheer him up. I brought him a book and I got a leaf!” It takes a moment for it to sink in, a moment to remember that when he is sad, we always offer a cosy corner and a book. It takes a second to remember what it means.

And then the tears come.

I hold them back as best I can – I do not want him to think that I am sad. Praise tumbles out, my voice cracking.

My friend. Cheer him up.

And the next day, written in his learning journal, there is it.

22 – 36 months. 22-36 months 22-36 months.

Shows concern for those who are special to them.

It is hard to begin to explain what that tiny piece of cardboard represents. It is three years of learning, three years of watching, three years of heartache. It is proof that our comfort is appreciated, our lessons learned. It is a reminder that it does not matter how slow progress is, how small each step. It is an adventure beginning.

It is hope.

Comparison is a thief.

But the joy you bring, little boy, it is infinite.


Names in this post have been changed for privacy.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like ‘The Fight: war cry for an autism parent’.

The Thief of Joy

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10 thoughts on “The Thief of Joy

  1. Oh lovely, you’ve brought tears to my eyes too! This is so precious and I understand to some degree the comparison & how it can make you feel as a mother. My daughter is almost 2 years old and only in the last 2 weeks has she started speaking…after months and months of seeing her NCT buddies chat away and say word after word. I was so worried, I know I shouldn’t have been but you can’t help it. But moments like this remind me how lovely it is to be so proud as a mama – and you are so clearly a wonderful mama xxx

  2. I can understand fully the feeling you felt seeing the leaf. I had the same when a mum came up to me saying my son had help cheer her son up as other boys was being mean to him, My son is also autistic so to us this meant the world to us. He normally has very little understanding of people’s feelings so to us this was huge.

  3. I know this all too well the anxiety, the tears from me and my son, the frustration and the unfairness. But you have to grasp those tiny specks of clarity and understanding. My son is now 8 but as he has a severe universal learning difficulty the gap between his abilities and understanding of the world are becoming more noticible with his peers. He has however learnt many things recently that were beyond him even a year ago such as reading longer words, making himself be clearly understood by others keeping and most importantly making new friends! I too have witnessed him take care of others who are sad and he’s been helped greatly by having a younger sister. When he was first diagnosed at 6 it was a bleak time but the one thing I have always held onto is “all children are capable of learning they may learn at a different pace to their peers but they do learn” (I can’t remember where I read it late one night but it’s brought me comfort). All the best.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by to comment. It sounds like you have been through some tough times but you are absolutely right – there are always wonderful things to look out for if you just keep looking and keep going through the hard times. All the best to you and yours too. x

  4. I stumbled across your blog because I am also an autism-mum-blogger, and I love to read about other people’s experiences. You are right. Comparison IS a thief. But as autism parents, we adapt and take joy from the smallest of things. Thanks for sharing your stories xx

  5. Beautiful post. Shed a tear. It’s so hard not to compare but I am trying. The little things are big things to me. Take care x

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