Why I will no longer attend anything at my autistic son’s school

I don’t want to be one of those parents that never turns up for anything at their child’s school, but next year I can assure you that I will be that very parent. I won’t be at any parent engagement events, or school shows and I will be avoiding assemblies like the plague! I won’t even be at parents night and my child won’t even see me at the annual achievement assembly either.

I am not a bad parent though, far from it.

This is NOT what I want but I have come to the conclusion it really is for the best.

In fact making this decision has broken my heart.

Yet my New Years resolution to not attend anything at my son’s school is one New Years resolution I fully intend to keep.

Why? Well because it is what my son wants.

I never thought my child would want to be the only child in the school nativity without his mum or dad sitting proudly watching. I never thought my son would want to collect his annual achievement award with no-one to cheer him on. The thing is though; I am not autistic, he is.

He sees the world very differently to me and this is a great example of that. I see his school as somewhere I want to be highly involved with and engaged with. I want the emotional feeling of seeing my only son being on stage and taking part in things I never thought he would be capable of. I want photographs and memories to treasure of him dressed in costumes and joining in. I am really wanting it all for me. Isaac though sees things very plainly: mum belongs at home not school. End of.

Seeing me at school, for whatever reason, causing him far too much distress. That distress, confusion and even anger, has now built to a point where it is no longer safe for me, or for staff, to have me at school events. Isaac gets so upset at seeing me and so anxious he can harm himself and others. That distress lasts a long time as he just can not process the fact I have appeared somewhere that, in his mind, I should never be. When he comes home from school his anxiety is set off again as he sees me back home and he must wonder how I was at his school 14 miles from home just a few hours before. He doesn’t have the cognitive or processing ability to understand fully that I could drive there and back (after all he never drives so how could I?) and the whole evening becomes challenging for the whole family. Things get thrown, broken, we get screamed at and he is in obvious distress. We can not ‘talk it through’ since at 9 he has no speech at all. It is awful and heart breaking for everyone.

So I have had to lay aside my own desire to see my child at school. I have had to take the very difficult decision to never see another nativity play he is in, or visit him in his classroom. It is even harder when I know he is actually excited to see other parents do these things…just not his own mum.

I could disguise myself and sit at the back of the hall I guess but what if he did somehow see me? Is it worth the upset it causes him?

I will continue to support his school by sending items in, communicating via his home school diary and giving money as required. I want much more, of course, but I hope they understand that this is the best way now. I pray they take photos that I will never be able to take and maybe even record events on video if possible. It won’t be the same as being there for me but what can I do?

I miss out on seeing my son do so much already. I miss out on hearing his voice, or teaching him to ride a bike, or even playing a simple game with him. I just never thought I would miss out on seeing him at school too.

New year, new term, and a new way of putting my son’s needs before my own.

This is the right thing for my son, for his sister and for the whole family. I have tried for five years but that’s it over now. From now on I will no longer attend anything at my son’s school and for us this is hopefully going to help make the next year more manageable and pleasant for us all.

Sometimes though I just wish autism was a little less hard on my heart.

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To the woman on the helpline

I called you today in desperation.

Yes, I am stressed and sadly you got to witness that in all it’s glory. Thankfully we will (hopefully) never meet. I ended today’s conversation in tears and there was so much I didn’t get to explain. The fact I even got to speak to you when both my children were in the same room as me is pretty amazing in itself. You probably think I am crazy so I hope this shows I am maybe not as crazy as you first thought. If I came across as emotional, stubborn, even perhaps agitated, I hope this letter makes you realise it wasn’t you I was getting at. I am just a mummy desperate to help my baby and today that happened to involve you.

I honestly don’t make a habit of calling helplines and crying for assistance. Sometimes I just don’t know how else to make my child better.

You see when I called you this was what my six-year-old was doing:

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She is sick. Again. For four weeks now she has had a cough that just won’t budge. She is already underweight. The doctors say she has a chest infection and the day before I called she was given her second dose of antibiotics in just two weeks. No mum can bear to see their child unwell. It is like a stab to their own heart and they would do ANYTHING in their power to get them better. The thing is to get better my daughter needs to eat and drink. Unfortunately this is a real challenge at the best of times and a hundred times worse when she is sick.

She has a very limited diet. She always has done. The only two things she has drunk since coming off breast milk is cows milk and a certain brand of orange squash that happens to be made by the company who employs you.

The doctor said milk would make her condition worse. So that only left the juice. I went to make her some and realised we had just run out. Her dad popped to the shops for some. He couldn’t find any. So he drove to another shop. Same problem. We just could not understand why this was, so he tried a few more shops. Still no sign of the juice. I tried tempting my daughter with so many other drinks. She would not take anything and was crying for her favourite orange drink.

When Naomi gets something in her head nothing but nothing will shift it. She smells everything to make sure it is right before it passes her lips. She examines what it looks like and often feels the temperature and texture too. She has sensory difficulties which affect her eating. She has rigid thinking which means she likes things as they always are. She struggles with change. She needs routine in order to feel safe. She has a condition called autism. She wanted her juice and would dehydrate rather than drink anything else. My heart was breaking for her so I thought I would just call and ask if you knew where I could purchase some of her juice.

I wasn’t intending crying on you, honestly.

Then you told me the worse thing you possible could ever say. And that is why I cried.

You told me you had stopped making her juice and you had no plans to make it again. Just like that you broke my daughters heart. And that broke my heart.

In the six and half years of living with my children’s autism I have rarely been so desperate. I remember pleading with you to help me. I remember saying she has autism and yet you said there was nothing you could do. I had to hang up I was so upset.

Your company now see me as a pest. I have written on your social media sites about my daughter and created a storm you don’t like. Kind people from throughout the UK have been looking out for the juice, buying, posting, bringing it to my house and giving me online links to buy it. There is a massive autism community out there and we stick together.

Today it was my daughter and your company. Tomorrow it could be another child and another company.

It is not my daughter being stubborn or obnoxious refusing to drink anything else. This is autism. It affects children and adults. Change has to be gradual, supported and is a process, sometimes taking years. It can not be done when someone is unwell. Sometimes, despite everything we try, change still never happens until the person is ready.

You shook my little girls world. You devastated mine. I do understand you were simply the messenger, the call handler, the employee. So I am sorry you witnessed this mamma breaking down.

My world is fragile. My daughter is fragile. I just never realised quite how fragile we both were until I called you.

Thank you for understanding,

One stressed and emotional mum.

P.S. Naomi is now much better thanks to us getting some juice eventually. We took her to a shop today but she refuses to walk down the drinks aisle because her juice isn’t there anymore. And she keeps repeating ‘why can daddy not buy my juice?’.
I just can’t answer that one.
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