The moment he realises he must change

The moment he realises = silhouette of a girl with blue sky fading to yellow and red.

It is a grey, damp morning in 1993 and I am standing at a bus stop. Behind me, boys who are a few years older than me smoke cigarettes and jeer.

I am covered in their saliva.

I do mean covered – they have been spitting at me for over ten minutes. I have heard them snorting, drawing the phlegm down into their throats, over and over again. Moisture is beginning to sink into my clothes. It is all over my back, in my hair. I am scared to move, scared to reach up and touch my back, touch my head, for fear of what I might find. I have not turned to look at them. My eyes are brimming with tears and I know that if I turn the dam will break

In the distance, I can see the bus coming. I do not know what to do. I am desperately cautious, meticulous about keeping to the rules. If I move now, if I walk away, I will miss school. If I stay, if I board the bus, there will be much, much more humiliation to come.

Slowly, I start to walk. My home is not far – a turn or two. They shout after me. As soon as I know they are not following, the sobs begin.

I could describe more. I could talk about the rocks thrown at my house, my little sister’s screams, my father out in the darkness, hunting boys. I could talk about the way my possessions were broken, my work sabotaged, the way the bunsen burners were turned on my hair in science lessons, the smell of my own hair burning. I could talk about the police cautions, the way they egged my house when their ringleader was given a curfew.

I could talk about how there is not a single thing in my life that is not informed by those events, even now.

But that little girl – the one who laughed at strange things and read on the bus, the one who would not speak in class and never seemed to fit – she is okay now. She has security. She has a home and a job and she feels safe, most of the time. She has love.

She has children.


My son is autistic. There are things that he understands with absolute clarity. He knows how a flush works and how pasta shapes are made. He knows the order of the planets and the names of their moons. He knows I love him as much as the whole wide world.

But he does not know that death is sad. If you tell him your rabbit died, he may find it hilarious. The concept of things ceasing to exist is alien to him – quite absurd, enough to make him collapse with giggles. He does not know that it is rude to ignore someone if they address you. He will not always answer if you call him by name, if you ask him to play. There is no malice or cruelty in him. He simply works a little differently.

Thoughts that others would only dare to whisper – he shouts them, gleefully. He makes up his own language, his own worlds, his own concepts. He stims and flaps and pulls faces. He may get very, very close and shout gobbledygook.  He stammers. Verbal ticks and strange noises escape from him, unbidden. He moves in strange ways.

“Spine versus spine!” he shouts in the playground “Spine versus spine! If you take the keys along together you must double back on yourself!”

He gets close to another child, demanding loudly “Do you know about spine versus spine? I have to tell you!” He smiles and then his face contorts. He looks like he is grimacing in pain, but in reality he is overwhelmed with excitement. He seems not to notice when the other child simply moves away, unnerved. Later, when I quiz him, he will make up huge flights of fancy to describe what he meant. Sometimes spines are monsters, other times the explanations are mixed with television programmes and dreams.

At this moment in time, my son is beginning to realise that he is different. He does not yet know that being different sometimes means that others are cruel.

He has not seen them – the looks. But I have. His father has. I saw the older boys on the playground who raised their eyebrows. I saw the child at the school disco who laughed and flicked him from behind. I see the strangers who move farther away.

One day, at some point in the future, he will see them too. It may be in a year, or five, maybe longer. But, one day, he will know what a bully is. One day, he will know that his behaviour is not accepted. One day, he will be faced with a choice that is unbearably cruel: change, or be victimised. He must learn to fit, to mimic, or be ridiculed. The knowledge sits like a stone in my stomach. The day looms like a bad dream.

I wish it were not true. I hope it is not true. I ache for it not to be true.

But the little girl walking home, covered in phlegm and tears – she will not let me believe it.




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7 thoughts on “The moment he realises he must change

  1. I love your openness and honesty in all your posts. I tell my daughter every day how wonderful it is to be different and no matter how hard it is, it is important to always be yourself. My heart breaks most days over a look, a comment, or her being totally ignored, but I don’t ever want her to change, and treasure the wonderful, unique person she is. I know you do the same so I hope even through the pain your son will always know he is a very special individual in a sometimes incredibly cruel ‘normal’ world xx

    1. Thanks ever so much. It is really hard sometimes to know the best way to deal with some of the things he does – because I do not want him to change. But I also know I will not be able to bear the look on his face when he realises that someone is being cruel for the first time. Thanks so much for reading and your kind words. x

  2. Oh Danielle, this post made my heart break because of 1) your experiences and 2) your fears for your son. However, with you by his side, wrapping him up in love, he will beat the bullies. No one should ever feel like they have to change or conform to be accepted. We are all different and that should be celebrated. You are both amazing x

    1. Thanks so much for reading. It was a long time ago and I had a much better experience once I moved schools. But I am terrified of what he might face if he met people as cruel as they were. All I can do is teach him to be kind and spread as much awareness as I can. Thanks so much for reading. xx

  3. Your post made me cry. My son is nearly 10 and for the last couple of years the other children in his school have started to realise he is different. He used to have two good friends (despite playdates being tricky) – one even wrote BFF on his birthday card for his 8th birthday. Since then though they have changed – gone through a phase of winding him up – because they know they can, and he always reacts, and usually gets into trouble – and now just moved onto other friends. They weren’t even particularly cruel, just finding their feet too – but it broke my heart! My son doesn’t understand why he has no friends, and gets upset when his sister has sleepovers and playdates. He would actually probably not like those things as he needs his own space after an hour or so – but he doesn’t know that, or understand why everyone else has a best friend and he doesn’t. He’s now looking forward to big school in the hope that as there are lots of boys there, he will make a friend. But I am dreading it! I hope our fears are unfounded. But we both know they probably aren’t. Good luck.

  4. Just started to work with a little boy with autism. This helps me to accept the reality and the importance of me being there to support him through his different strengths. He is an absolute gift, as is your son. You are an amazing mum❤️

  5. I am so very sorry you went through that, my heart broke as I was reading it. I hope in a few years, the world will be more accepting! I know I am raising my daughters that kindness breeds kindness. Hopefully the world is doing the same!

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