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! 

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Sometimes it all gets a bit too much

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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

Ignore, challenge, accept or embrace?

This trip was planned. The sat-nav was set, the kids in the car, the mobility buggy packed, and a toy train in my daughters hand. The long awaiting launch of a charity called Funny Lumps, supporting children with neurofibromatosis type 1, the tumour condition both dad and Isaac have. We were looking forward to it. A chance to meet other families coping with the same condition, the chance to hear information on the condition and a great opportunity for the children to explore the Riverside museum.
I never saw one exhibit. I never spoke to one other family with NF1, and we didn’t get any more information about the condition. What I did see though was a reflection on how the world sees my children. As I witnessed some ignoring them, others challenging them, some accepting them and a few precious strangers embracing them, it opened my eyes to the world outside my own.
Here is the story of the trip to the museum:

I’ve stood here almost 20 minutes now and you are just as excited and enthralled as you were the moment we arrived. Over 50 people must have passed you by now. One or two of whom have actually pushed you aside. An innocent, happy, excited child just engrossed in your own little world fascinated by the simple opening and closing of the doors others are just walking through and ignoring. Doors, two sets, one after the other. Automatically opening and closing as people enter and leave. A little piece of heaven to you.

You notice the exact spot that triggers the mechanism to work, you notice the tiny red flashing light above, you feel the breeze and the drops of rain and the difference in temperature as both doors open at once. You love the passing from one terrain to an other, the transition from inside to out and the change in flooring. You get excited as you see that an approaching stranger is going to cause something to happen that you can predict. And even though you knew what would happen it still brings you delight. Again and again and again. Over and over, time without number. Oblivious to others reactions, oblivious to the cold, or any danger, or even where you are.

I want to be like that. I want to embrace the wonder, the freedom, the awe of it all. I want to accept that this is what you love. Not the fascination of the old trains, buses, taxis and trams. Not the contents of an old campervan. Not the old noises of previous fire engines and police cars. But the opening and closing of automatic doors.

A elderly couple passes by. They ignore you. Families rushing in and out of the pouring rain ignore you too. Coach loads of strangers ignore you. Tall men and short women ignore you. Why pay attention to a flapping, vocalising, strangers child? Why bother with someone clearly different?
In life so many people will ignore us. But keep on going son. Keep on loving life. Don’t let the fact others are not paying attention affect how you are or what you do. It is better they ignore you than hurt you or laugh at you. Let them ignore you. Mummy isn’t ignoring you. God will never ignore you. As others carry on with their life you carry on with your love affair with your doors. And may we all get excited about something and find joy like you have.

A family with a young baby challenges you. You are in the way of their pram. Your world momentarily clashed with theirs. The same with those teenage girls. You just happened to be in front of them. With a little encouragement and physical prompting the challenge was resolved. Sometimes lives collide. People clash. People can get in our way. But patience and encouragement go a long way. Not everyone likes what you do my precious. Everyone is different. In those challenges we all learn though. You had to pop out your bubble for a bit. They all had to be more aware too. A little inconvenience perhaps but life goes on. Think of all those people that haven’t challenged you though. Because the world really is full of love. And there will always be people on your side. Life has many challenges but may we all learn to grow and be better for them. Move on, keep flapping and keep laughing son.

A mother smiles at me. That knowing smile from a weary stranger. The 15 or 16 year old with her is hooked under her arm, held close while he grunts. ‘Autism’, she whispers with love in her eyes. The look of a fellow special needs mum who has found herself in a similar place in the past. Acceptance that life isn’t always as you thought it would be. Acceptance of difference. Acceptance that life goes on and you make the best of it. She gives me hope that one day we might get further. We might get to show you those exhibitions after all, even if your arm is tucked in mine. I wouldn’t be standing here still if I didn’t accept your autism son. I’ve walked the embarrassment, the worry of what others think, the concerns for your safety, the feelings that this isn’t ‘normal’. Dad is walking around the museum worried about you. Concern and stress is eating at him. Because this isn’t how trips out ought to be. But it is what it is. And here we are. We accept you for who you are even when others don’t. Because God accepts you. Just like he accepts me.

A member of staff starts talking to me. She has been watching you and smiling. There to hand out maps of the museum and you are entertaining her. And she is embracing it. You stop as yet another stranger runs through the rain towards the door. Your laughter and excitement as the thing you predict happens once again. In all the noise of the crowds, through the splashing of the rain on the building, the chatter of hundreds of people, through the ding dong of announcements I heard her laugh with you. A little boy made her laugh. She embraced the wonder and love with you. Then she told me something amazing. ‘Did you know’ she said, ‘that these doors cost thousands of pounds? Many of these vehicles on display were donated, or found, at very little expense but these doors cost thousands.’ She paused. ‘It’s nice to see someone appreciate them. That’s all.’

You did more than appreciate them son. You embraced them.

You are priceless son. And we need to embrace that.

Some might ignore,some might challenge, some might accept, but the more people embrace you in life the better all our lives will be.

Maybe we should all try having fun with some automatic doors! And maybe we need to embrace those who are different more too. Because everyone who passed through those doors that day is special. And everyone is different. Wether we ignore it, challenge it, accept it or embrace it is up to us.

In the irony of the fact we never quite got to be part of a charity launch set to support you and others with nf1, you taught me more than any speaker could.
Thank you Isaac.

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