This week we were invited to have a look at an ASD specialist school as part of the process of being assessed for a statement of special educational needs. Whilst we still hold out hope that Charlie will be able to attend the same school as his sister at some point in the future we have to consider that there is a possibility that Charlie may be better off learning in a specialist environment rather than in a mainstream school.
The school was beautiful, and much more peaceful than I was expecting, I was particularly impressed especially by the quality of the older pupils, and their confidence and ability to speak to us and articulate their thoughts, even when I put them on the spot, in front of their teachers asking them questions about what the best and worst things about their school were.
They have a very high staff to pupil ratio, and great facilities for the kids. Also as its virtually impossible to access any statutory early intervention or therapy outside of the school system, then we will have to give this place some serious consideration.
When we arrived we met the headmistress in her office.
As we sat down she asked us to tell her a little about Charlie…
A while back I was given a similar question by a specialist teacher, she asked me “what is Charlie good at?” Looking back, I feel so ashamed to say that the question had stumped me for a few seconds. As parents of special kids we get asked so many times to describe our kids in terms of their diagnosis, difficulties or the challenges that they are facing that these questions, although more emotional, somehow become easier to answer. As we walk this road we become so much more fluent in giving answers about what they can’t do rather than what they can do.
After gathering my thoughts I told her that Charlie was good at paying attention to detail, befriending children who are shy. He is good at building with lego, following rules, making people laugh and using a computer, he can swim like a fish and run for a long time. The list is goes on further, but I wonder how few times do I actually speak it out?
Given the situation on the day and the type of school we were visiting, It would have been easy at this point to start by detailing all of Charlie’s challenges, after all how else would we have got to this point? To this day, and to looking around this school? Maybe she wanted us to justify why we were there, maybe I needed to justify why we were there.
But at that moment I felt a check in my spirit, Charlie is far more than his diagnosis and far more than he challenges we have faced as a family over the last few years.
Suddenly in that moment it was so clear to me that to have started the day by describing him only in terms of his autism would have been selling him short.
So instead I started by telling her how he is cute and funny and bright and confident, how he is super friendly, I talked about the things that he loves, his Lego and ninjas and angry birds. How he is happy and well behaved in school and how is his making great progress with his learning.
Only after I had told her what a great kid he is, and made sure that she knew he would be an asset to her school, I added that he has a diagnosis of ASD and that his main challenges arise from Sensory Processing Disorder, and how he thrives when he is in an environment where is sensory needs are met.
As the morning went to there were plenty of opportunities to talk about autism and how it has affected our lives and how we hope that the school can meet his needs, and offer him the kind of support he is getting in his current placement.
Charlie wasn’t with us on the day, but I know in my heart that if he was and if he had heard me speak he would have felt proud to be himself. Knowing that his autism is a part of how God has created him and that we are proud of all of who he is.