When Eliza was 3 she was diagnosed with ‘Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Mild-Moderate Learning Difficulties’.
That’s what it says on her diagnosis paperwork. She completed nursery in a mainstream school with a dedicated 1-1 TA by her side every day.
Then, for reception year, she was offered a place at a special school and she left mainstream.
The final day of term in mainstream, as parents collected their kids and started to chat about what teacher their child had next term I informed them Eliza was moving and I explained why (Other than the staff and 3 friends that knew, I’d not mentioned it to anyone at this point as we’d not long had her SEN place confirmed).
I can still see the shock on their faces in my memories today.
Because not one of them had realized she was autistic.
She’d successfully managed to fly under the radar for an entire year, despite having no speech back then, despite daily frustrations at queuing, despite being greeted by her 1-1 every day, despite stimming and a bunch of other things.
I remember a few people saying things like “She’ll be back in mainstream in no time, she’s managed to fit in here and nobody noticed”. What a lovely thought, or is it?
Eliza is 10 now and still in a special school and she will be until she finishes education.
She’s very academic and does extremely well in all her lessons. We’re lucky that she is in a school that runs as close to a mainstream setting as possible whilst taking in to account everyone’s needs.
She’s about to enter her final year in Primary and she’s in the top academic class at her school, much more formal and mainstream like.
I know that when people make certain comments, like they did when she was back in nursery, it’s because they may not know what to say.
And if a child has managed to blend in and not stand out as ‘different’ it’s seen as a good thing by so many people.
To me, it’s difficult, as yes it can be great to blend in but I’d never want her to feel she had to be someone she isn’t.
I know Eliza is a great masker at times but thankfully she’s able to be herself most of the time. The masking is often spurred on by anxiety.
What worried me more was that is was so easy for her to blend in and go unnoticed.
Autism awareness and understanding was pretty poor back then, it’s not much better these days mind. That was just a mainstream nursery class of 32 children.
They had their own space and their own outdoor area. If she’d continued in mainstream, imagine how easy she’d blend in to 300 children at play time!
A child that can’t speak. How would anyone know if she was OK or whether she needed help?
Of course, this wasn’t the reason we chose to move her to special school although it was a part of it. Eliza is a very academic child, but she needs teachers that understand autism and understand who she is and what her difficulties are.
Not only that she needed staff that understood her strengths too.
Might sound crazy but you’d be surprised how many people hear the word autism and assume straight away that she’s incapable of anything.
She needs the smaller classes, so her sensory input isn’t overloaded and her anxiety triggered.
She needs access to therapy such as speech therapy (who helped us use Makaton sign language and picture visuals until her speech returned).
And she needs staff that can cope with her meltdowns or behavior outbursts and be able to support her through them.
As academic as she is, there are things that will always impact her life. She’s vulnerable and emotionally a lot younger than her actual years and it’s likely she’ll always need some kind of carer provision to help her with her independence and support her.
I have no doubt she’ll grow up in to an independent, strong willed and incredible young lady.
She’s comfortable being herself and I’m so proud of that. I don’t want her to blend in.
I don’t want her to feel she must fit in to what others expect her to be, to be moulded and made to fit others expectations.
I just want her to be herself and be accepted for who she is.
Eliza – a flappy when happy beautiful girl that loves computer games, unicorns, Pokémon and sequin cushions!