I’ve had to say that phrase quite a lot over the past couple of years.
Whilst my son attended nursery school the possibility was raised that he may be on the Autistic Spectrum. He had advanced verbal skills but other traits suggested that he may have ASD. As time progressed it became more evident that he was “probably on the spectrum” and so we entered the “assessment process”.
As a teacher of many years, I had a professional awareness of ASD and had received regular LEA Autism awareness training – but naturally as a new parent of a “probably Autistic” child – I zealously researched the condition with a new perspective and motivation.
After months of research and seminars – two realities hit home profoundly:
1)Teachers working within mainstream schools often hold antiquated ideas and perceptions of Autism which often alienate and marginalise children on the Spectrum.
2) I was “probably Autistic” too.
The first reality was heart breaking.
I had previously worked in SEND play schemes and as a teacher in mainstream settings, I had received regular ASD awareness training. I had even been fortunate to work in a school with a dedicated unit which focused on Holistic Creative Therapy services for students with neurological and mental health needs – yet even then my perception of ASD had been shaped by the stereotypical “Rain Man” who lacked emotional connection, verbal skills and desired solitude tropes.
Only in my research did I discover the diversity and nuances of the ASD spectrum. Like a rainbow, the spectrum has many shades and colours creating a Kaleidoscope of stories and experiences. But a myriad of presentations is difficult to identify in a classroom settling, particularly when teacher bias obscures objectivity, and so many students with ASD are vulnerable to exclusion, being labelled “badly behaved”, or socially excluded as having “problems at home”. It is no surprise that mental health issues and depression rates are so high for people on the spectrum. In many ways the mainstream school system is a parent’s worse nightmare for an Autistic child.
The second revelation was actually life affirming.
Watching BBC’s Our-family-and-autism, I became engrossed by the mother’s realisation that she was probably autistic. As she speaks of her three autistic children she explains to the camera “They are a lot like me”. A moment of hesitation and a look of revelation crosses her face as she seems to make the connection between her own experiences and that of her children . After being prompted on the show to take an AQ test and consult with an ASD specialist, she is later diagnosed with Autism.
Although autism is predominantly diagnosed in childhood, increasing numbers of adults are finding out that they too have autism. Just as Christine McGuiness did in the documentary, other celebrities including Chris Packham and Melanie Sykes have publicly shared their diagnosis, truths and experiences.
Reading their stories and experiences felt very close to home. From being called “a little odd – a free spirit -different – or beautifully eccentric” to memory issues or rearranging furniture to their optimum position, or just not quite getting the social cues – it was all so relatable that I decided to take an AQ test and the results…. “probably Autistic”.
And just like in each of the stories of adults grapping with the possibility of being Autistic – a sense of relief and understanding came with the revelation. It finally all made sense. More so for me, the ability to be able to truly understand what my son experiences and have authentic conversations with him means that he is not alone – and that is the biggest joy that a mother could hope for.
Autism currently affects 1–2% of the UK population – that is 1 per 100 children and 2 per 100 adults
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