Years ago when I was still a mainstream primary teacher I had two children who had a diagnosis of autism in my nursery class.
It was like walking into a hurricane. One of them seemed to spend the whole day screaming and then banging his head on the wall. He was none verbal and seemed to be in a world of his own where the rest of us were just annoying pieces of moving furniture. Other children avoided him and he would push them aside and snatch anything he wanted. He threw sand into the air, laughing manically, splashed water as far as it would reach across the classroom, ate the paint and needed a side room all to himself when the nursery stressed him out too much.
The other boy had some verbal communication and was much more aware of others around him. He wanted to interact but didn’t really have the skills and often he would be left standing as other children played imaginative games he couldn’t follow. He loved climbing and running and his laugh was delightful when he was outside on the bikes. He loved creative activities and singing. However, he could not follow the ebb and flow of our daily routine and activities and any attempt to have him sitting down and engage in story time ended up with him squirming and wriggling through the rest of the children.
As a youngish teacher with a passion for special needs I was intrigued. These children were so different but yet they had the same diagnosis. We were lucky. In those days there wasn’t much training about autism available but being early years setting, we had access to the local Child Development Centre and they gave me and the teaching assistants that worked with me, lots of basic tips and resources that made a huge difference.
This autism bug began to sink its claws into me. The year after I knew I couldn’t stay in mainstream and announced to my husband it was time for me to leave. I left my job with nothing to go to but a passion to get some experience so I could apply for jobs in a special school.
I announced to the teaching agency that I would go to any special school that would have me on supply and was soon inundated with work. That was some years ago and the autism bug wouldn’t let me go and still I am obsessively interested in anything about it. I’m fascinated by reading research. I love that we are finding out how the autistic brain works differently than a typical brain and how this can help us understand what makes autistic people tick.
My greatest inspirations are the parents of children with autism that I know. They are the unsung heroes who live with autism 24/7, who hate school holidays and never sleep a full night. Those autism parents who are my friends make me humble with their selfless dedication and constant fighting to get their children’s needs met. They would never see themselves as heroes, they tell me about their failings, things they wish they’d done or known, confess their frustrations and leave unspoken their fears for their child’s future. But to me they deserve many blessings.
I love listening to those who can explain what it’s like for them and that God has given me a passion to understand that we are all understood and valued by him.