I am very proud and pleased to present the second in the series of guest blog posts, written by Mrs M, who writes ‘A Slice of Autism‘. These will be published once a month.
The first blog ‘The Delayed Effect’ had a massive response, with many readers saying how they could relate to the blog. This month Mrs M focuses on how effective partnerships between home and school can be made, for the benefit of all involved – most importantly the children. Here is her second blog:
I want to share a story with you. A story about ‘that mum’. A mum who found herself on a journey. A bumpy journey that she hadn’t really planned to take.
Now you may be read this story and think that mum sounds just like me, I’m so relieved that I’m not alone. Or you may read this story and think I know that mum and I never realised that’s why she stands in the playground each day looking down at the floor, maybe I’ll go and talk to her.
Or finally you could read this story and think I hadn’t realised how much courage it took for that mum in my class to pat me on the shoulder and ask if she could have a word with me at home time today.
So here is my story of…..
How I became ‘that mum’
Once upon a time on a sparkly autumn morning there was a playground full of nervous little children. All looking so grown up; wearing their crisp clean uniforms, and squeaky new shoes. Their parents were beginning to smile and nod at each other in a knowing kind of way. Then the awkward silence was broken by the bell ringing loudly, a signal to everyone that it was now time. Time for all the anxious parents to let go, and time for the children to start on their journey of discovery…..as it was their first day of school
Well here I am
Here in the middle of this
But my son was screaming, and clinging onto me as if his life depended on it, and I was wishing the ground would swallow us up, as all eyes looked in our direction.
My poor boy! Oh the mum guilt!
This first day is scary for any parent to have to go through. But mixed with this fear we all have is pride, and a real excitement for what the future holds for our kids. So day after day as his anxiety continued I told myself it was just his nerves, it would soon settle. But niggling in my gut was this fear that I couldn’t shake; a feeling that something with my child was different. Yes he was anxious, and yes he needed routine, but more than I would have expected for a little 5 year old boy….I suspected he was autistic but I was too afraid to admit it yet.
So instead I thought of the football matches we would proudly stand and watch. And the school plays his dad and I would sniffle through, and that kept me focussed for a while.
Now imagine that excitement slowly trickling away as I began to realise that my son WAS different from his classmates. I watched with a feeling of envy as the other mums in the playground collected their kids who were all smiles and laughter. And I found myself avoiding eye contact with them to ensure I didn’t have any awkward conversations about how well it was going, as I just couldn’t face it.
So I would stand in the corner and wait nervously for that first glimpse of my son, as I knew instantly as soon as I saw him what kind of day he’d had, and therefore what kind of evening we would face.
He would stomp out at the back of the group looking pale, scowling at me whilst chucking his bag in my direction, and then he would often explode in the car, pushing his sister away and sobbing uncontrollably. He was struggling with the demands of school. Then teatime would become a battle zone, and homework … well let’s not even go there with homework!
I began to question what more I could do, and then the guilt would eat away at me because I was a working mum. It was exhausting, especially when I didn’t really know why it was happening, and no one else saw it but me.
Tired and worn down eventually I plucked up the courage to speak to his teacher and tell her there was something wrong. I felt sick. I had to admit I was struggling coping with the effects of the school day on my son, and I had concerns he had Autism. This is not something I wanted to have to do, I wanted to be the mum on the PTA doing cake sales, and going in to read once a week with his class. It would take all my courage to start this conversation, and begin to let the teacher into my world. So my defences were up, I was guarded as a way of protecting my feelings and keeping my dignity.
Reluctantly I tapped her on the shoulder one Thursday afternoon and said “Mrs ……can we meet, I need to talk to you?”
This is where my complex journey with school as a special needs mum begins.
This is where my journey to becoming ‘that mum’ all started!
None of us have children with the aim of becoming ‘that mum.’ It’s a journey we find ourselves on because we have to fight for our kids at every step of the way. We don’t choose it. We can’t escape from it. We live it day in day out.
And equally none of us become teachers and want to feel like we are failing the kids we care so much about. We struggle with huge workloads, increasing demands, and intense pressure.
So it’s easy to see that if you put an exhausted mum who feels like her world is falling apart, with a teacher who is struggling with the demands of the job….. that communication can break down so easily. We need to empathise and really listen to each other and there are many other things that we can do to help each other, and improve links with home and school. This openness will help reduce the anxieties that school can hold for children like my son, and hopefully in turn this will help to alleviate the effects the school day has on our kids at home.
Some of the simple strategies that can also help include…..
- Viewing it through our eyes as a parent, and please believe what I say, this is no fun for me. The last thing we want to hear is “oh we never see that here at school” or “you do surprise me” it puts our hackles up instantly
- Understand the complexities of Autism. There is no one size fits all, my child is unique and complex and I don’t expect you to have all the answers because even I don’t and I’m the mum!!
- Just because a child can do something once doesn’t mean they can do it again, this expectation can cause huge pressure on our kids even if it’s not immediately obvious
- Try and view your classroom wearing ‘Autism glasses’ is it Autism friendly, is it too busy, loud or cluttered? Am I talking too fast and not giving enough processing time…. AND IF IN DOUBT USE VISUAL SUPPORT….. EVEN FOR VERBAL CHILDREN
- Look for subtle signs from my child that may go unmissed, and talk regularly with us to better understand these clues as we know their child best
- Work out ways to release the lid on the pressure for my child throughout the school day, again by liaising with us (sensory breaks/ relaxation / fiddle toys/ time out/ brain breaks/ stimulus overload etc)
- Debrief / transition times at the end of the day. Even 10 minutes calm time can make a massive difference
Communication about changes/ incidents/ events is VITAL, we don’t expect meetings every day or week, but a heads up on any changes or incidents is sooo helpful once at home to unpick our child’s behaviour
- Incorporate special interest wherever possible to help my child really engage in learning.
This is by no means an exclusive or detailed list, and so much is down to trial and error. But if you take one thing away from reading my story today, let it be this….we all have a back story, we all have pressures and demands on us, and we all want what’s best for our children.
So by working together and communicating with each other we can help to embrace our kids for who they are and make the school experience less daunting for them.
And you know ‘that mum’ is never as bad as you really think she is so don’t avoid her, or sigh when she approaches. Respond to her emails no matter how busy you are, as we can work so much better when were all on the same side.
In my next blog I will expand on each of these points in more detail and explore some simple strategies that can really help children with autism cope with the school day.
Mrs M.’s bio:
My name is Mrs M. and I a mother to three wonderful kids. My middle child was diagnosed with Autism in 2014 after a long and difficult wait for answers. He has also been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and co-morbid ADHD traits.
I have worked Childcare and Education in for many years in a variety of roles, including Nursery Manager/SENCO Assistant, and most recently as a Resourced Provision HLTA working with children with Autism.
After leaving my job last year to become my son’s full time carer I began to share my story and blog about our life through my Facebook page and website. I am always honest and doesn’t sugar coat our lives, I share the ups and downs of motherhood and Autism.
I have had several of my blogs published and my page (find it here) has grown into a wonderful support network for many other parents to share their concerns and stories with people that understand.
But most of all through writing the blog I have discovered a previously hidden passion for writing.
So I will share my story with you; it will be like a little slice of my life, warts and all, as I live the rollercoaster ride that is being an special needs mum.