I was caught off guard recently. A few weeks ago Wee Man asked me directly why he goes to the school he goes to (he’s at a special school for children with autism). My stomach flipped, then quickly sank. I wasn’t ready for this conversation. Trying to find the right thing to say, I told him, “it’s a special school darling, for special people.” He fixed me with a serious look, tears pooling in his eyes and said, “But I’m not special. I’m just normal.” At that point, I knew the time had arrived, to begin the journey of telling Wee Man that he has autism.
I’ll be honest with you; the thought of it makes me feel desperately sad. It feels like ‘this is it’. It’s suddenly, completely, undeniably real and he really does have autism. I never lie to my children and telling him that he has autism, means that he really, really does. So, I guess the time has come for me to finally and truly admit it to myself; my perfect, adorable Wee Man has autism*. Therefore, are an autism family. And that’s very OK.
I’ve talked it over with Wee Man’s school and we’ve come up with a plan of how to help him understand what autism means to him, how it affects him and why he goes to school there. We’ve prepared some visual stories, which will hopefully help him process it all…but do you know what? I think he already knows. I think he already knows that he’s different and these differences are becoming more apparent. He’s a very bright little boy and, for a person with autism, he is unusually aware of the world around him – he just struggles to connect with it. I often know with Wee Man that by the time he actually voices a question to me about something that has been on his mind, he already has an idea of the answer…
Part of the reason why I think this is that, in trying to prepare him, I’ve been talking about ‘differences’ a lot with Wee Man. Trying to be subtle, I’ll casually say “oh, look, Little Pink has curls in her hair. Mummy doesn’t have curls. We’re different.” But he will vehemently disagree, shouting “No. You’re the same”. And if I point out, “Hey, Wee Man, you’re a boy and I’m a girl. We’re different.” He will still disagree, insisting that we are the same. It’s like he knows what I’m trying to do and what I’m trying to show him…but he doesn’t want to see it yet.
I am certainly not pushing the issue, but I know it is on his mind, so I’m laying the groundwork I suppose, for when he is ready to take it on board and talk about it. But it’s actually a really important lesson for all children to learn early; we are all different and that is very, very OK!
*I feel I should explain this a little although I will cover it in another blog (it’s not a quick one to explain!). I know Wee Man has autism. But to me that doesn’t matter. It’s a name. It’s something that makes him who he is. This will sound very strange to some, but I forget it. I actually forget my son has autism. It’s not until we are in a situation that he really struggles with (normally out in public) that I am reminded of his difficulties. And then I have to remember, understand and accept all over again…every single time. It’s a very bizarre mindset, but I have very little control over it. Call it a survival strategy maybe. Or, perhaps, it’s just me accepting my boy just the way he is…and that’s pretty bloomin’ perfick!!