The day my five year old changed her class without saying a word

imageLike every mum I was terrified when my baby started full time school. Even as I dressed her in her shirt and tie I wondered yet again if mainstream was going to be the right place for her.

I had more reason than most to worry as she left that day still unable to dress herself and not yet potty trained, diagnosed with autism and selective mutism, and despite having had an extra year at nursery already, she was still one of the smallest children.

On top of all that she carries a heavy burden wherever she goes even at the tender age of five.

I often wonder if professionals realise the daily weight that siblings carry on their shoulders every day?

As well as her own diagnosis my beautiful blue eyed girl is the twin sister of a boy with even more complex needs. He has tumours, severe autism, challenging behaviour, global delay and is non verbal. She has to live with that at the fragile age of five.

How would she manage without him as his school placement was 14 miles away from hers? How would anyone know to meet her personal needs if she was unable to talk? Would her anxiety, vulnerability and tiny size make her an easy target for bullies? Would her home life stress cause issues with her learning?

I worried. And wondered.

But something changed that first week she started school. And one day her classroom assistant told me that my special, fragile, silent girl had actually changed that whole class of new starts without even saying a word.

It turns out there were two other children in her class who were also silent, but for a very different reason: they were unable to speak English. For ease of teaching my daughter was sat next to these children so the one assistant could help them all. But none of the teachers spoke Russian and everyone was still trying to work out the best way to help this group of children who due to inclusion had all been placed in the same mainstream class.

The teacher taught a lesson and the children sat on the floor. My baby girl sat and listened intently and returned to her seat. The class had been asked to draw a picture and write their names at the top of the sheet. As all the eager children started to pick up pencils and pens Naomi just sat there. She watched as the classroom assistant struggled to help the two others who had no understanding of what had been asked of them.

As another child momentarily distracted the assistant Naomi got up from her seat and walked over to the two children. She took the water holder from the middle of the desk and pulled it beside them. And silently she took each child by the hand and pointed to their own name and then pointed to the top of their paper. She then picked up a crayon and began to mark their paper every so slightly and pointed to what the others were doing.

She waited while they took in her attempts to communicate without language and slowly they began to copy down their name and begin drawing. She looked at them and smiled. And only then did she return to her own chair to try and write her own name.

The classroom assistant cried. The teacher watched.

The most unlikely child in the class had taught them all a lesson that day. The child diagnosed with a communication disorder actually showed them all how to communicate.

She still does not know one word of Russian. But living with a non verbal brother with complex needs taught her something that changed her entire class of children without her saying a word: it doesn’t need words to help people.

I still worry. But I know that in all she lives with she is somehow managing to turn ashes to beauty. And I could not be more proud of her.

This article was originally published on firefly and can be seen here: http://www.fireflyfriends.com/special-needs-blog/specific/raising-kids-with-special-needs-without-saying-a-word

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It’s not about me

When I was young it was all about me. And then one day I got married. And it became about me and my husband. It stayed like that for far longer than it ever should have been, but then we became parents. And life no longer became about us but about two little children. For five years life has now been all about them. Even more so than many other parents as both my children have additional needs. They both have autism. One also has seizures, global developmental delay, neurofibromatosis type 1 and is vision impaired. No-one would judge us for it being all about them. Hospital appointments, school and nursery events to attend, therapists to liaise with, courses to attend, medications to be administered, nappies to be changed and so on. It could so easily be us four and no more.

But life is bigger than that.

So I open my life up to others. I am on social media outlets, I attend groups and courses and meet other families going through some of the same things we are. I take the children to clubs for other children with autism. I blog.

Why?

Because I care about others. I can learn so much from the road that others have walked before me. As a family we have negotiated some tricky terrain that has only been possible through the help and advice that others have given. Together we are stronger. Our breakthroughs become others breakthroughs and give others hope. Hearing other families achieve in areas we are still struggling with gives me hope that all things are possible. Even if I can not directly identify with thier issue or offer advice I can cheer them on, celebrate with them, encourage them. We can pray for each other, stand beside each other, link arms.

Because it isn’t about me.

Or my children really.

I could easily close my social medai accounts, stay at home with my children, not answer the telephone, stop blogging. But I would suffer. And I believe others would too. Not because I think I am someone special. But because there is something powerful and stronger about supporting others, praying for other people, looking out for someone other than yourself.

I am a people person. I comment on social media because I care. I listen to your struggles because I care. I blog because I care that someone might no longer feel alone after reading my blog. That someone may be helped by a strategy or therapy that helped one of my children. That some other family might identify with what we are going through and be encouraged.

It’s not about me.

So I am happy for the National Autistic Society to use us on their website (http://www.autism.org.uk/) The boy with the bubbles is Isaac.

And I am happy for our story to be used in their Christmas marketing:

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It’s not about me.

It’s about how many other families that will be able to access the help we did as a result of campaigns like this.

It’s about someone else knowing they are not alone in this journey.

It’s about encouraging others that progress can and will come in time.

Sharing your story is not about you. It’s about humility and vulnerability. It’s about giving of yourself, even when emotions are raw, knowing you are not alone. It’s about real life and daily struggles. It’s the public recording of a journey. A journey that others can adopt as thier own, identify with, run with, be encouraged by. It’s about awareness.

It’s about helping just one person.

The sleepless nights, the endless screaming, the loss of the one word he took over 4 years to say, the yearning to see my babies walk, the pain of seeing my son have seizures, the broken heartedness of getting diagnosis after diagnosis, the fighting for thier educational needs, the public comments that crush my Spirit, the constant appointments.

It’s all worth it.

Because these two are worth it:

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You are worth it.

Your children are worth it.

If one person is encouraged by this blog it is worth it.

We don’t all have to live our lives in public to help someone else. We don’t even have to be on social media. But someone somewhere can benefit from the journey you have walked. Someone can benefit from your friendship, your encouragement, your prayers. Someone can feel less alone just by knowing you care. Someone’s life can be changed by you.

It’s not about me.

It’s not really about autism.

It’s about parenting.

It’s about others helping me and me helping others and being there for each other.

It’s about awareness.

It’s about not feeling alone or isolated anymore.

It’s about rejoicing with others as they rejoice with me.

It’s about walking beside each other hand in hand.

It started with two little children but now it’s about hundreds of others.

It’s about so many other things. But it’s definitely not about ME!

“not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others” Phil 2:14

“rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn” Rom 12:15

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘today’…Heb 3:13