Autism and the sweet taste of success


Every now and again something happens in your day, in your life, that really is worth shouting from the mountain tops.

Today is one of those times.

But let me backtrack a bit.

This time last year, Master J was in Mansfield attending a residential intensive program for children on the spectrum.  He was suicidal, you see.  Life, his life, had become so unbearable for him.  He hated being autistic and he hated school.  He couldn’t reconcile the fact that autism is who he is, what makes him the beautiful soul that he is and he wanted to end it.  I sat and listened as he told me that he wanted to die, a very large piece of my soul breaking with him.

Sending him to that school was by far the most difficult thing Mr C and I have ever had to do.  The school caters for children across the spectrum, meaning that children who are low functioning reside with those that are high functioning.  It is a lesson in tolerance, responsibility, community.  And it is very very hard to learn.

The endless phone calls begging to take him home, the screaming accusing us of abandoning him, the pleading not to take him back when we had the home weekends.  It was draining, and a mother’s worst nightmare.  The guilt I may have felt at all my failings as a mother was nothing compared to what I felt in those 10 weeks.

But he survived.

We survived.

He learned that he is capable of more than he ever thought possible.  We learned that he capable of more than we ever thought possible.

He learned that autism is not a curse but a gift.  We learned that to try to wedge him into a neurotypical expectation was destroying him.  We learned to ignore the constant cries of people who think that autistic children are just over indulged and need to learn to fit in.  We learned to accept him completely for who he is.  He learned to largely do the same.

We all learned so very very much.

This year he saw a future.  A future he couldn’t possibly see that day he begged me to let him die.

It has been a tough year for him.  A year where he has had to push himself beyond his comfort zone time and again.  A year when a few melt downs have ensued.  A year when small victories have been few and far between.  A year where he has continued to push forward.  A year where he has dared to dream, dared to hope, dared to take action.

And today was pay day.

Text from Master J:

76% Maths exam.  Second highest in class

Instant tears streamed down my face.  On the day of the exam, he was so anxious, so convinced he would fail.  Yet he had prepared.  Throughout the year he pushed himself to do homework even when, in his mind, he could not see the point.  “If they insist on sending school work home, why aren’t I being homeschooled?” he would ask.  His logic was flawless.  Yet, he would sit, even if was at the last minute, to do his homework, willing himself to focus, to ignore the pull of his laptop to complete the work at hand.  It wasn’t easy.  It was a mammoth struggle.  He took the first steps towards a future he knew he wanted to have.

My response:

OMG!!!!! I am so freaking proud of you, well done my love.  Do you know how clever you actually are Master J?  Please never doubt yourself.  The sky truly is the limit.

No response from him.  But then I didn’t expect one.

This is huge.  This is beyond huge.

I picked him up from school.  As he opened the door I whooped and cheered.

At least wait for me to get in the car,” he laughed.

He looked so radiant.  At the tender age of 16 and a half, he had finally tasted success, victory, borne of the effort he had put in, borne of him pushing himself so hard through obstacles that were, for him, so great.

My heart felt like it was going to burst out of my chest.

He sat in the car.

Oh my god Master J, I am SO proud of you.”

I got the bloody second highest in the class.

I know!!  The second highest!  Are you ecstatic?  I best Ms K couldn’t believe it.

Ms K is Master J’s maths teacher.  But she is also his pastoral care teacher.  She is on his pastoral care team that make sure he fits in at school.  She was one of the ones to suggest he attend Mansfield.  She has an incredibly soft spot for Master J.  And he hasn’t been easy on her.

Nah, she was pleased.  I asked her if I had failed and she said “maybe” and then she smiled and said I got 76%.  I got the bloody second highest in the class.

Swearing is something Master J does when he is excited.  We used to try to correct him but then we realised that it is how he communicates his excitement and Master J doesn’t express excitement very often.  We stopped stifling him.  We learned to accept him.

In fact, he said “I got the bloody second highest in the class.” at least ten times in the fifteen minute journey home.

This.  This is what success tastes like.  For him and for us as his parents.  Not that he got 76% for maths, not even that he came second highest.  No.  It is the fact that he is learning to believe in himself.  He is learning the correlation between applying himself and that great feeling of achievement after working through the challenging times.

Something tells me that this is just the taste of possible things to come.  And it feels good!

Until next time,

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Ramblings {For the love of books}

I never fit in at school.  No, it’s true.  We moved around a lot, you see.  A lot.  In my entire school life I attended 8 schools.  In a 12 year school career, that is a lot of change; a lot of new people to meet, a lot of new friends to make, a lot of being behind the 8-ball when friendships have already been made and cliques are firmly ensconced.

I’m not sad about it.  It is just what it is.

My mom loved books.  My earliest memories are of her reading – either silently to herself or to me whilst I was sitting on her lap.  And I treasure those memories.

Books became my friends in every sense of the word.  They never judged me as the new girl with the funny accent (we moved countries a bit) and they were always there for me when I needed them most.

During my teenage years, when most girls my age were out with boys, plastering posters of their favourite pop idol onto their walls and hanging around at the shops, I could be found inside my bedroom, or under a tree in the garden on a nice day, reading a book.

I loved all kinds of books, but I particularly loved fantasy.  Growing up in an alcoholic household probably had something to do with that.  That need to be anywhere but in the chaotic existence I resided at that moment in time.  I couldn’t wait to be transported to a world that was about as far removed from my own as you could get.  I am still like that today.

When Harry Potter was published in 1996 my daughter was just 4 years old.  I devoured it despite her being too young for it.  In 1998, we moved to the UK and in 2000 there was an open audition call for children to star in the new Harry Potter movie to be filmed that coming summer.  Such was my passion for the books, that I was devastated that I couldn’t audition myself (too old, you see) and my daughter couldn’t either as she was just too young.  Oh to be a part of something so fantastical!

Bookshops are still my drug of choice.  When my soul is feeling chaotic and mismatched, I only have to find a bookshop, preferably one with a coffee shop or a reading chair, and immediately I am at peace.  I will walk around the shelves, running my finger along the spines, marvelling at the collective intelligence carried on the shelves.  I will sniff (in a non-fettish kind of way, you understand) the pages and drink in the delight that promises to engulf me as I begin to read.

If I can’t find a bookshop, I am more than happy to reside in the library where they don’t mind that you are spending an inordinate amount of time reading a book you may never check out.

I dream of owning a bookshop.  In a world that is increasingly seeing actual bookshops dwindle in favour of the online variety, it may be madness to have this dream.  I don’t care.

In my dream it would be overlooking the sea, this small bookshop.  It would contain two sections – new books and second hand books – books should know no barriers.  I would have a coffee shop attached to it.  In this coffee shop will be crafts that local people have made and in the corner would be a fire place for those cold winter days with two sets of sofas and a couple of chairs.  We would have writing workshops, and author’s evenings (local of course), and poetry reading evenings too.  There would be a book club, or two, or three.  It would be a place where people come to read and connect in quiet solitude, bound together by their one true love – books.

This, my friends, is my version of heaven. This is where my soul would come to rest for the remainder of its days.

Books and  I have a love affair.  I don’t mind admitting it.

Is it the same for you too?  I would love to hear about it if it is.  Or perhaps you would like to write about and head on over to Leaf and Petal and add yourself to her linky.  Don’t be shy now.

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