I read this recently:
Several times lately I have tried to remember my time in middle school, did I like all my teachers, do I even remember them? Did I have many friends? Did I sit with anyone at lunch? Just how mean were kids really? I remember one kid on the bus called me “Tammy Fay Baker” bc I started awkwardly wearing eye liner in the sixth grade, I remember being tough and calling him a silly name back, but when he couldn’t see me anymore I cried. I do remember middle school being scary, and hard. Now that I have a child starting middle school, I have feelings of anxiety for him, and they can be overwhelming if I let them. Sometimes I’m grateful for his autism. That may sound like a terrible thing to say, but in some ways I think, I hope, it shields him. He doesn’t seem to notice when people stare at him when he flaps his hands. He doesn’t seem to notice that he doesn’t get invited to birthday parties anymore. And he doesn’t seem to mind if he eats lunch alone. It’s one of my daily questions for him. Was there a time today you felt sad? Who did you eat lunch with today? Sometimes the answer is a classmate, but most days it’s nobody. Those are the days I feel sad for him, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He is a super sweet child, who always has a smile and hug for everyone he meets. A friend of mine sent this beautiful picture to me today and when I saw it with the caption “Travis Rudolph is eating lunch with your son” I replied “who is that?” He said “FSU football player”, then I had tears streaming down my face. Travis Rudolph, a wide receiver at Florida State, and several other FSU players visited my sons school today. I’m not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I’m happy to say that it will not soon be forgotten. This is one day I didn’t have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes. Travis Rudolph thank you so much, you made this momma exceedingly happy, and have made us fans for life!
Leah Paske – Bo’s momma
School is...an experience. Some of us forget, some of us grow out of it, some despair and some thrive. We were all insecure, we all had self esteem issues, we all wanted company. How much easier would high school be if we just didn’t care though? If we didn’t shield ourselves, change our habits and go over and over every single word, pause and comma we used throughout the day? Some may say it’s because kids with autism don’t understand; that’s not true. Chris understands so much more than we give him credit for. Our kids are free, they are untouched by the weight of fitting in. Their spirit is unspoiled. They get to be themselves without the fear of judgement. They can sit and have lunch alone without a care in the world, without trying to impress. I’ve talked about this before; the things we worry about are reflections of how much we are affected by the standards imposed on us by our community. We worry when they play alone, when they don’t get invited to parties, when people stare. We worry because we don’t understand what it’s like to live life without constantly trying to fit in.
I’m grateful for his autism too Leah. I am thankful i get to look up to a boy who is completely, carelessly and overwhelming okay with just being himself.
For the first day (back) at school if your kid has autism:
· Dress them in their favourite clothes. If they have a uniform (get it from M&S) do a couple of trial runs before the first day so that if there’s anything uncomfortable you can sort it out before.
· Pack their bag with them. They should know what’s in there and they should have a say in what’s in there. Make sure it’s stuff they have used before and it’s not all new and shiny.
· Take them for walks around school (if you haven’t already) to familiarise them with the area. If you can meet teachers before hand – even better! Take the backpack with you, with lunch and maybe even wear the uniform. This way they know it all goes together.
· Make sure the teacher knows how to handle questions, and that you are available to talk to the classmates about autism. Pretending like autism is not there is not the solution, it’s not acceptance.
· If they have stimming toys, pack them.
· Do a trial run of the early wake up.
· Make a schedule and sit down and go over it with them.
· Don’t make it a big deal. I mean, it’s the biggest deal EVER, but don’t create expectations they have to live up to.
If your kid doesn’t have autism talk to them about it. Chances are, they will come across someone on the spectrum during their education and you have to be able to answer questions. Learn about autism, educate yourselves, your children, your family. School doesn’t teach us everything, so be proactive, be positive, be generous and be inclusive. By teaching your kid about autism you are making someone’s school year bearable and you will make an autism family’s life just a little bit better.
Dora grew up in Cyprus and is half Sri Lankan. She is a law graduate from Lancaster University and the University of Kent. In her spare time, she researches and writes an autism blog about her brother (christos90.wordpress.com). She is an aspiring human rights lawyer and hopes to help make a difference for people with disabilities in the future.