It’s always when you are busy that children suddenly choose a moment to spring something on you, and tonight was no different. I was right in the middle of preparing tea for the kids when my six year old walks into the kitchen, her voice tired and slightly emotional:
“Do you know something mum, me and my special friend, I just think there is something different about us…”
Oh boy! It’s just an ordinary Wednesday night in late August. I am cooking dinner and thinking about homework we will be doing together soon after. My mind is on mashed potato and school uniform for tomorrow and now I need to urgently think how to respond to a statement I have been waiting for for a while now.
My daughter has autism and she attends a mainstream school. Her best friend is on the cusp of being diagnosed too though they are both very different.
How to I approach this? I want her to know she is unique and wonderful, but also recognise that she finds some things more of a challenge. I need to keep it at a level a six year old can understand without babying her or over simplifying a very complex neurological condition.
I must remember to talk about social differences, sensory differences, understanding language differently, rigid thinking, repetitive movements….my mind is racing ahead now…
Oh, maybe I should text her friends mum and warn her or even chat to her about how we approach this. The girls are bound to talk tomorrow and I owe it to my friend to prepare her for what her daughter may discuss. Maybe I should delay ‘the talk’ until the girls are together? Yes, maybe we should be doing this together so they both understand and hear the same thing?
Actually, maybe I should wait until my son is not distracting my attention too. He has classic autism so I must remember to talk about that side too. But that might confuse her? She only commented that her and her friend were ‘different’ so maybe she hasn’t realised how different her twin brother is yet..
I finish dishing up dinner to find her right behind me sitting at the table watching and waiting. I go get her brother and give them their dinner and decide ‘the talk’ can wait another moment while I switch the kettle on. I have a feeling I could do with some caffeine to help me.
She hasn’t said anything else since that statement. My drink is now ready and with my mind still whizzing and my heart beating fast I decide I can not delay this any longer.
I need to go carefully. I need to watch my words and check her understanding. She might be ready for this but I am not sure I am…
“Right sweetie, what was it you were saying about you and your friend being different…”
Sip of caffeine and a short pause later…
“Well I was just thinking mummy…you know at playtime, well me and my friend like red crisps for snack and everyone else has something different”
And with that simple fact ‘the talk’ once again got put to the side for another day.
That day will come though. And I need to be ready. I just hope I don’t have fish fingers and baked beans cooking the next time she asks…