A letter to my son’s first teacher – from a former teacher and autistic mum

A letter to my son's first teacher

Teaching is more than just a job. I know.

I know what it is to mark and lesson plan into the small hours. I know what it is to live in a hollow of exhaustion. I have felt the isolation and dread of a pile of unmarked books that must be marked, felt it deep in my bones.

I have been on the other side of the desk to an angry parent, one who has misunderstood or refuses to believe me, one 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 he cannot separate from them. Sometimes, he becomes so anxious, so inundated with information to process, that he ceases to function. He gets lost, my little boy. 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. Sometimes, 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. You may lie awake, 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 can tell you all about the moons of Jupiter and the robots on Mars. He loves music – and noise. If you put him in a quiet room, he will bash and shout and use every surface around him as percussion. 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, if you give him your full attention, he will always do something that will brighten your day.

I want you to know that he is our world. I want you to know that for every behaviour that is hard to manage, there are a dozen things that make him exceptional, that make him valuable, that make him 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, if it ever 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 no much that I do not know. There is so much that I fear.

I fear that the other children will not understand him. I fear that they will be cruel. I fear that making him fit into your classroom will be more than he can bear, and he will come home, every day, broken.

You have the power to dampen these fears. You have the power to make sure you understand him, to make sure he is more that something that makes your job harder, more than a complication, more than a number on a page, more than an SEN statistic, more than an Ofsted buzzword.

You have that power, and I do not.

Please. Please.

Use it wisely.


For more posts about teaching, and autism, you may like:

An apology to my autistic students


I am not a teacher


A letter to my son's first teacher - from a teacher and autism mum

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17 thoughts on “A letter to my son’s first teacher – from a former teacher and autistic mum

  1. Oh my goodness. As a mum of a little boy with autism who is soon to start school, this just expresses everything.
    Thank you x

    1. Thank you so much for reading and your kind words. I wish him, and you, the best of luck for September. xx

  2. Oh how this letter plucked my heart strings.
    I taught in a time when children who were perhaps autistic were not yet labelled. I tried to find some way of communicating with them, those small ones who came into my teaching world bemused and unsettled. How excited we became when we made even the smallest breakthrough. When I taught I always had a Frank Sinatra song at the back of my mind! It’s title? I did it my way.
    I hope your son will be accommodated in his Brave New World

  3. As a teacher and mother of two young girls I read your post with interest. You express your hopes, fears and love for your child beautifully. We all desire happiness and understanding for our children. I hope everything goes well for your son and family.

  4. You stopped my heart for a moment. I do not have children and I love that you stand on both sides, your son, of course, and the teacher’s side as well. More and more our educators are going to have to step up their wisdom as we see more and more of things like this. I would love, LOVE our education system change to a non-mainstream, one box fits all environment!
    Thank you for your blog and your heart!

  5. last year i was teaching in dubai and I had 2 autistic students in my main stream class, both sets of parents were very open with me about their expectations for their child in the class, some were unrealistic with 30 kids in the class as they would’ve been for the other children, some requests were so easy to say yes to because their child would’ve been included automatically and every parent asked me to look after their child. i hope you share this letter with your son’s teacher #spectrumsunday

  6. This feels so raw. I was so scared about Tyger starting school. I’m not a teacher, though I did do half a PGDE and have tutored from home so I tend to be on the teacher’s ‘side’ as much as possible. We were lucky; Tyger’s teacher is brilliant and has made his first year of school as enjoyable as it could be.

    After the summer he’ll be going into Year One, though, and all those fears are creeping back. It doesn’t help that his current teacher has said he may well struggle with the increased work-load and decreased play time.

    I hope your boy has a good, understanding, patient, kind teacher.


  7. This post really got me, so beautifully written and so relevant to our experiences, being a fellow ex-teacher and mummy to my gorgeous girlies. I would be absolutely honoured if your gorgeous boy was in my class, from the quotes I’ve read that you share I think I’d get on with him! I hope to return to education one day and I’d love to work with children where I can discuss their special interests and passions with them I get so much out of seeing them so happy. With my youngest I’m having discussions at the moment about whether a mainstream Pre School or nursery at a local SEN school is the best place for her, it’s such an emotional time and to know what to do for the best for our children 💜
    Thanks so much for sharing – looking forward to hearing how he’s getting on x

  8. That is brilliant, you have been a teacher, you didn’t fully appreciate it until it happens to you. I was the same when adopters told me about their daily challenges. Now I am trying to manage or keep the situation under control for a 6&7y old traumatised boys. I get it, others don’t get it. But it’s frustrating when a teacher just waves a hand thinking ‘she is just another xxxx mother’. I also wrote a letter to her, even gave information on attachment disorder (which has similar manifestation as autism, long story, we are still not sure which is it) and she doesn’t seem to take it because xxxx. But i digress. Really well written post, I hope your boy’s teacher will take it to heart and will look at you as a partner. All the best!

  9. Wow, thats an incredible insight as an ex teacher. The future is uncertain but your attitude and openess I hope will help for a great relationship and understanding from the teacher. School is always a massive worry for SEN parents and I was in your position last September – but so far it has been amazing and my daughter has surprised me in her adjustment. #spectrumsunday

  10. Oh heavens what a truly beautiful profound and moving post. I totally understand your concerns and I do wish you and your son, whom you know so well and love so deeply the very best of luck.

  11. As a Special Ed. Support Facilitator working with general education teachers of mainstreamed students, your letter is so impacting. I’m so glad you wrote it for your child’s teacher and for all of us. I only wish more parents would write letters like yours to their child’s teacher. My daily mission is to educate general ed. teachers of the uniqueness and amazing attributes the students’ with special needs bring to their classroom. As an educator, I want you to know I try to understand your concerns and fears. I also work hard to find the appropriate strategies that will help every child I work with display their strengths. I wish every parent I work with would know that I want to be part of their team and work together with them for the success of their child. Thank you for your letter! 😊

  12. My special little man is due to start mainstream school in September, not sure if he will last the year out as been told he will never cope and will need a SN school x

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