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 child at the awards ceremony who knows their name will never be called.

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Ah, end of term.

Sports days, shows, school trips, report cards and of course the all important end of year award ceremony. Proud parents just as excited as their children, relieved teachers glad to show that someone really loved their teaching and halls full of eager little ones hoping and praying their name will be called.

You already know social media and family gatherings will be all about little Jane who had a distinction in maths, or young Brian who scored the most goals for the school football team this year…but what about all those children sitting through the ceremony year after year longing for their name to be called yet never hearing it?

What about the children who have found the school year exhausting, who have struggled to master ten new spelling words a month and who have needed support every single term? What about the child whose parents have separated this year meaning she has had huge difficulty focussing and has slipped down the ability chart as a result? What about the child for whom just getting through a single day with the noise, bright lights and confusing smells is a huge achievement? What about the child whose health issues mean that getting to school is an achievement in itself?

What about the children like mine?

Each year they become more and more disappointed. Each year their self worth and excitement gets less. They will never be top of the class, or excel at sports or get the starring role in the school play.

More and more children with special needs are being educated in mainstream schools. It has huge advantages but at this time of year of competition and recognising achievement it can be so demoralising for a child who has tried their best day in and day out and still never hears their name at the award ceremony.

I wish I could speak to every one of those children. I wish could hug everyone of their parents. I know the heartache of seeing your child feel left out. I know how hard it can be to clap and cheer every achievement announced knowing your child can never compete or be in for a chance of winning something.

Stay strong children. Stay strong parents. In cheering on others and noting their success you are developing character and if that was ever measured you would both win without a doubt.
If there were awards for perseverance, for strength, tenacity and determination YOU would be the winner. If there were awards for fighting spirit, purity and trying they would be calling out your name loudly.

One day the world will realise stars are much more that the best achievers.

Until that day, if your name is never called at that award ceremony: stay strong. Your self worth is not measured by certificates. Your importance is not measured by how many people cheer.

You are important. You are worthy and you are special. You are the best at being you and that is better than any award that any school can offer.

I’m not sure if you can hear it little one but I am cheering you on! Keep up the great work!

This piece originally appeared here