I have debated, wavered. Usually, my urge is to overshare, to explain to the nth degree, to present my heart on a platter and hope that the absolute nature of the gesture makes people generous and kind. It is a compulsion that has caused me no small amount of heartache, in the past.
But this is different.
This morning, my son started primary school with fifty-nine or so other children in Reception. That is fifty-nine families, fifty-nine sets of mums, or dads, or mums and dads, or grandparents…hundreds of people who love those children the way I love my son – ferociously, unswervingly. We are now connected, those families and my family.
One day, I hope soon, my son may be friends with one of those children.
One day, my son may frighten one of those children.
One day, my son may disrupt a lesson with one of those children.
One day, before long, those children will notice that my son is different and they will tell their parents. They may say my son screamed and screamed and would not stop. They may say that there is a boy who shouts strange things and cannot sit still. They may say that there is a boy who flaps his hands and bangs the desk and who does not answer when they call his name or ask him to play. Those parents will learn, one way or another, that my son has autism.
I want to pour my heart out. I want to post a notice on the school gates. I want them to read every word I have ever written, to listen to every anecdote about my son, to learn everything about him, to understand him. I want them to know that he is funny and kind and worthwhile. But I also want to be just like any other mum, him to be just like any other boy. I want him to start school with a clean slate, to enter a classroom that is brimming with possibilities. I cannot decide whether I want the other parents to know everything about him – or nothing.
Of course, both are impossible.
There is no way for me to sum up my boy, encapsulate him in a way that means he will always be understood. Likewise, there is no way he will be ‘just’ like the other children. In truth, I would not want him to be. And so, I must reach a compromise. I will share only the most important things, tell those parents the information I most need them to know –
Please include him. Invite him to parties. Say hello if you meet us heading into school. But understand if he does not answer. Understand if we cannot come.
Please, do not judge him. Do not think he is unkind. Do not resent it when his emotions run wild. Sometimes, he cannot bear ‘pretend’. A classmate saying that they are a princess can be a tragedy, or a red flag. Bending the rules, inconsistencies, non-literal meanings – they may make him inconsolable with grief. Your children may perceive his behaviour as odd. He makes up words and loves nonsense and shouts gibberish phrases.
Your child may not understand him. They may even avoid him, because they do not understand his reactions, because they are scared. Teach them to accept him. Let them know that he does not dislike them, that he just sees the world a little differently.
Do not judge me. I am frightened. Frightened that he will always be lonely. Frightened that he will be overwhelmed with anxiety. Frightened that school will break him, and I will struggle to pick up the pieces. If you glimpse my parenting, if my reactions seem odd – understand that I know what I am doing. It has been hard – unrelenting – learning how best to manage when circumstances mean my little boy ceases to function. My son does not need more discipline. He needs understanding.
Lastly, if you are ever unsure how to explain, if our children’s paths cross and anything unsettles you, if anything makes you concerned or frustrated, ask me, talk to me or to their teacher. Have an open mind and a kind heart.
Our children will grow, learn, forge friendships and make the world a better place – together.