What Happened When A Child Refused To Have My Autistic Daughter In Her Team


It’s two days before sports day at my daughter’s school and gym lessons are all about practicing for hurdles, sprinting and egg and spoon races. The children are excited, eager and raring to go…all except one child who finds any sport a challenge.

She is small, quiet, slow at running and finds balance and jumping difficult. She has fallen too often and takes longer to master even the most basic of physical skills Everyone in her class knows this but today it seems even more obvious.

The class is divided into teams to practice the skills. Although no mention of competing, timing or winning is even said the children somehow know this is practice for the big day when trophies and awards are given out. The teacher numbers the children and sends them to their respective areas.

And then it happens.

Miss can I swap groups?”

“Does she have to be in our team?”

“It’s not fair we always have her!”

“That’s it! I’m not taking part if she’s on my team!”
And at that one child walked off, refusing to take part in the lesson simply because my autistic daughter was on her team. 

My 8 year old won’t tell me how she felt about that but I can image. As her mum I want to cry. My daughter may struggle with social awareness at times but even she totally understood she was not welcome or wanted and she knew exactly why. 

She knows she is different from her peers. She knows her physical skills are delayed and that she often needs adult help to participate, yet every week she tries her best. But how much can one child take?
What would you do if you knew no-one in your class wanted you in their team? 

Naomi ignored them. She carried on as if nothing had happened while the other child sat and watched. She needed assistance at the hurdles and at anything related to using balls but then as the teams moved around activities the teacher noticed something very special.
When Naomi’s team came to sprinting they were a child short on her team. The child who finds running hard took it upon herself to not only run for herself but also on behalf of the very child who had refused to join in because she did not wish to be on a team with my autistic daughter! The teacher cheered her as she pushed herself to not only run twice for her team but also do several other tasks twice over because her team was a child down.

There was no race to win today. There were no prizes. The actual sports day is not for another two days yet. However, when I collected my daughter today her teacher called me back to speak to me.

She never told me about the child who refused to join in because my daughter was on her team. Instead she told me how proud she was of my 8 year old who excelled herself in the sports class today on so many levels.

It was my daughter who told me what happened with the other children and how one girl refused to join in because Naomi was on her team.
How silly was that mum! She thought she had no chance of winning because I am slower than others but you will never win anything unless you try.”

I don’t need to be upset about the fact my daughter was bullied today because she is different. I am not even angry the child was allowed to sit out just because she felt so aggrieved at having to do sports in the same team as a child who struggles.

My daughter proved today she is much greater at sports than anyone realised. She showed sportsmanship, team work and resilience beyond her years. What she lacks in physical ability she made up for in strength of character.

Too often we look down on others because they seem weaker or less able.

At bedtime tonight my daughter summed up her day like this:

“It was good mum! I tried my best and did extra when I could to help. That makes me a winner…right?”

Yes it does!

My child became a winner…that’s what happened the day a child in her class refused to have my autistic daughter in her team! 

Sometimes the hardest lessons in life show us what we are truly made of.

I hope the child who refused to join in today has learnt from my daughter. I know I have! 

Sometimes it all gets a bit too much

img_6057

I took this photo of my daughter recently in a busy shopping centre. It had all just got a bit much for her.

The noise of so many voices. The smell of so many different foods combined with the smell of people and everything the shops were selling. The brightness of the lights. The sense of dizziness as we walked in and out of different shops that were different temperatures, had different flooring and so many colours all around her. The constant thud of feet walking on the tiled floors. The bombardment of music and announcements. The lack of personal space in busy lifts and shops.

She could not wait to find a seat. She could not go on any further. So right where she was she sat down silently.

I left her sit alone at first. But after a while I sat right beside her. At first she was silent unable to even voice how hard it all was for her. Eventually she just said it was all a bit too much.

I may not have autism but I can so relate to that feeling too.

When she was ready we both got up and headed home.

I didn’t have to take a photo of her that day but I did it for two reasons:

Firstly I want to remember what happened so that I can try and help her before it gets to this stage again. As the shops get busier leading up to Christmas and the music, smells, and lights all get even greater I want to be able to keep a close eye on my daughter before it all gets a bit too much for her. It is my responsibility to pick up on her cues and notice the signs that things are stressing her. Perhaps I can learn from this powerful image and prevent her being so overwhelmed before we reach that point of freezing again.

Secondly I took the picture that day because seeing her on that floor while the whole world carried on made me realise something so important: sometimes we forgot that in the busyness of our lives others are struggling right in front of us. While I kept a close eye on my daughter that day my eyes were suddenly opened to the elderly man who was sitting alone having a coffee and the young mum struggling out of the nearby lift with two small children. From the look on their faces and their body language they both looked like it was all a bit much for them that day too. I vowed then and there never to be too busy to not notice when others are struggling right in front of me.

Once home I showed my daughter the photograph I had taken and asked if I could use it on this blog. ‘Yes’, she said ‘but tell people I am ok now. It was all a bit much but it gets better.’

My daughter realised she had sensory overload. Things had built up so much that morning that she needed time out. It happens to everyone sometimes.

Take time to sit alone in life. It is nothing to be ashamed of. A little time out is something we all need now and again. Perhaps someone will even sit beside you and support you though it too. I really hope so. No-one should be alone when it all gets a bit too much in life.

This post first appeared on Firefly

So she’s going to the mainstream

This time last year I was eagerly awaiting news on where my son would be going to school. We had no fight to get his name forward to the council as a child who would not be suitable for mainstream school, but we later had to fight to secure the right school placement. This week we had his second parents evening and he has settled well and is achieving within the right environment. We chose to defer twin sister Naomi from starting school as she was not yet diagnosed and a year could make so much difference to her development.

So here we are a year later. Naomi has grown in confidence, cognitive skills and comprehension and has much more understanding and awareness than last year. But she is still struggling (and always will) in areas affected by her autism diagnosis and also in her physical and independence skills. She is also doubly incontinent too. I have fought unsuccessfully for her name to be taken forward to the council as a child who would benefit from specialist education. Places are so limited and more and more children with autism are expected to attend mainstream schools.

At this present time the only advantage to this is that transition to school can start early. And that is very much a positive for a child with huge anxiety like Naomi. So last week it all began.

The Head Teacher, alongside the home/school link worker came to visit at home and gifted Naomi a school bag and a sticker book.

20140321-201812.jpg

20140321-201843.jpg
And as a thank you Naomi made a card in return:

20140321-201950.jpg
I walked Naomi to the school to give them the card and we were able to talk to the office staff and the janitor. Naomi took a book with her and the staff took time to look through this with her. I have to give the school credit for this. And while I have reservations about wether the school can really meet Naomi’s needs, as her mum I will endeavour not to pass these concerns onto Naomi. She needs me to be excited for her in this new adventure. She needs me to support and encourage her and to help her understand this big change.

It’s a bit like one of her favourite bedtime stories ‘we are going on a bear hunt’ where it all becomes a big adventure yet the whole family still feel scared when they finally meet the bear. Only we won’t be running away. We will be facing this together, praying that this really exceeds my expectations and she excels there the same way her brother is excelling in his own way in his specialist school.

Talking of the bear hunt…here is my thoughts on her going to mainstream to the song of ‘we are going on a bear hunt’

We’re going to the mainstream
It’s gonna be a big thing
I’m so scared look at all those children!

Oh yes! A visit from the Head Teacher
She could have brought a pencil, she could have brought a tie
She bought her a school bag!

We’re going to the mainstream
It’s gonna be a big thing
I’m not scared, she has an IEP?

Oh no! The IEP from nursery doesn’t count in school!
We call another meeting, lots of people talking
The school will write a new one

We’re going to the mainstream
It’s gonna be a big thing
I’m so scared my daughter still wears nappies!

Oh no! They haven’t got a changing room
She won’t get 1-1, but she’s gonna need assistance
I can see some problems!

We’re going to the mainstream
It’s gonna be a big thing
I’m not scared there’ll be plenty of transition?

Oh no! She’ll be treated like the others!
We won’t know who’s her teacher, they’ll be no-one from her nursery
And they wonder why she’s anxious!

We’re going to the mainstream
It’s gonna be a big thing
I’m so scared, she has asd!

Oh yes! Another visit next week
I’ll need to work with them, we’ve secured a csp now
They know my name already!

She’s going to the mainstream
It’s gonna be a big thing
I’m not scared it is just around the corner

What? The uniforms are in the shops? Quick! Let’s look at the photos of the staff again, let’s reread every book on starting school ever written for kids, try on the new jumper, pack the school bag, get the packed lunch ready….oh it’s only March!

Why do I still get scared at her going to mainstream?

Let’s hope my concerns are all proved wrong.

Hopefully this time next year I will look back on this blog and wonder what all the fear was about…

The most beautiful girl in the world

mirror1
Have you ever had a stranger do something so incredibly awesome it just makes you want to cry? I have. And it happened just this week. I pray the kindness and power of what the stranger did for me and my 4-year-old daughter impacts you the way it has impacted me. Some people make a mark on others lives that can never ever be erased.

We had went out as a family to a local place to eat. Everyday events like this have their challenges for every family but more so for mine due to the complexity of my sons needs and the fact we need to balance his needs with that of Naomi’s and somehow all need to get some chance of eating at least part of our meal. We could have chosen anywhere to eat but that night we opted for the local carvery. No waiting to get orders taken, the kids can see what they want on their plates and we can attempt to eat together without the usual demands for nuggets and fries.

Naomi is a challenge to feed in such places as her diet is so restricted and no-one wants a battle or tantrums in public. But a little mashed potato, a few selected vegetables and a little gravy got her picking at her dinner while quietly colouring in. Isaac had his usual loaded plate and was firing handfuls of food into his mouth like a child who had never seen a dinner before. I promise you they are twins but you would never believe it to see them eat!

However, even with food, Isaac’s attention span can only last a limited time and he was soon clambering over dad with food all over his face and fingers, wanting off to run around. A knowing look and wink of the eye was my signal that I was willing to take the strain tonight. To Isaac’s flapping, smiling delight he was getting mum. He brought a smile to my face even though I was missing out on a hot and delicious dinner yet again. But then I glanced at Naomi and my heart sank. Eyes bunched up with tears ready to explode at any minute, and a tender voice so timidly saying through her beautiful blue eyes ‘I want you to stay mummy’. Oh. This isn’t fair. They both need me so differently. And whatever I do one of them is about to protest publicly. I really must get that cardboard cut out of myself done. It’s the only way I can think of being in two places at once. And tonight I so want to be with both my babies.

I chose Isaac but prayed my daughter would know she wasn’t being rejected. I kissed her cheek quickly as Isaac vanished out of sight. ‘Come find mummy baby when you have finished your dinner.’ Oh Lord, this little girl is going through so much. She shouldn’t have to live like this. No wonder she has such tangible confidence issues and low self-esteem. No wonder she never wants to let mummy out of her sight. It must feel to her like she is second best, her wants and needs don’t matter, mummy prefers her brother. None of this is true but how do you balance the high needs of one child physically and communicationally with the high needs of the other socially and emotionally? Who is going to help the siblings of children with high needs? How can I let her know she is beautiful, clever, wanted and loved when my actions tell her I am walking away to see to the needs of her brother? Dad reassured her and encouraged her but it just wasn’t enough.

So my eyes were on my son but my heart was with my daughter. And God was about to use a stranger to impart a truth into her little life that would go deep into her inmost being.

As Isaac ran up and down in a little garden outside a group of strangers watched on as they drank and ate and talked. You could hardly ignore Isaac’s wild flapping, whooping noises and funny walk. But one young couple were watching him with smiling faces and pleasant eyes. And then little Naomi appeared and held my hand in the warm sunshine as we stood side by side watching her energetic brother. The smiling strangers asked if it was her brother to which she smiled and nodded. They invited us closer and handed her two coins, one for her and one for her brother. So very very kind of them. And without prompting Naomi said thank you.

We exchanged a brief conversation that her brother had special needs and that the children were twins. The lady reached into her handbag and fished for something. I hoped it wasn’t more money. She found what she was searching for and beckoned Naomi nearer. Looking my precious daughter in the eye she spoke lovingly and tenderly to her as she asked her a question.

“Would you like to see a picture of the most beautiful girl in the world?”

A whispered “yes”

To which the stranger opened a little love heart make up mirror and showed Naomi her reflection. To see my daughter smile and touch her reflection as she realised this stranger was talking about her was incredibly touching.

“You are so beautiful. Inside and out”
“Every time you look inside here remember you are special”

The words of a stranger. But exactly the words of God as well. Not to mention the exact words she needed to hear that day.

The lady gave her the mirror to keep and Naomi has barely let it go since.

I thanked the lady and her partner for the coins, the gift and the joy they had brought to my heart. But how do you truly thank a stranger for saying exactly what your 4-year-old needed to hear? I thank God once again for putting people across our path in exactly the right timing. And I thank God that the next time we go out it is mummy who will be staying with Naomi too.

I believe we all need to hear this message too. We can all feel left out at times, or second best or not loved. And every one of us needs to know that we are beautiful inside and out. We are special. And Naomi now loves to tell me “Mummy I am the most beautiful girl in the world”. Yes, baby girl, you are indeed.

mirror