Let me tell you a story….
Nine years ago my world was rocked when my daughter – then age two – was given an Asperger’s diagnosis.
I was a teacher. I’d done dissertations on autism. I’d worked with toddlers with autism all throughout university, and once I’d finished taught numerous older children on the spectrum.
Autism was my passion.
I’d expected the diagnosis. I’d initiated it.
I expected the words but I wasn’t prepared for them. But more than that I wasn’t prepared for the negativity of the process. The list of things she couldn’t do. The lack of ideas about what I should do. The list of places they referred us to that one by one we were turned away from because we didn’t fit the criteria.
I remember feeling completely and utterly alone.
Somehow in my head I had thought that diagnosis would equate to help. That once she had a diagnosis someone would show me how to help her get from A to B. That she would get support in nursery and ultimately in school.
You see from my position as a teacher, I had never realised just how hard it was to get support.
Autism was my passion, my background, my life even then. But when it came to my own daughter I found myself second guessing my decisions. Unlike at school I didn’t have a team around me to make collective decisions with, I didn’t have parents to use a sounding boards… it was just me.
And that was scary.
Really really scary.
Within a year of diagnosis, I had had Skype calls with an expert in Australia and flown out to Peru to see another specialist. The mum inside the teacher needed to know that she had covered her bases, that she was doing all she could to give her daughter the best chance in life she could.
And I appreciate even now the help they gave me, at a time when I didn’t know where to turn.
But in reality it wasn’t either of those experts who changed our lives. That honour goes to a group of young people who were onboard the Disney Magic Cruise Ship that summer. They got to know my daughter in a way few people ever have – even now remembering it there are tears in my eyes – and they taught her more than anyone else ever has.
In the 20 days we spent onboard the cast and characters, taught her how to play, how to trust, how to engage. And they taught me that my daughter would be #UNIQUEANDSUCCESSFUL. They showed me she would be loved. And they taught me that if we want our children to step outside of our comfort zone, sometimes we have to step outside our own.
They made me a better mum. But they also made me a better teacher.
You see those experts I went to see, the 100s of books I’d read, they gave me generic strategies – none of which quite fit her or our life.
Her Disney friends knew nothing about autism – they fell in love with a little girl and invented their own ways of helping her – Bear Strategies rather than text book ones.
It’s something that whichever young person has walked through the doors of my classroom since then, I’ve kept in mind.
Because the reality is knowing the child in front of you, listening to them and their family is more valuable than any professional knowledge. But when you put the two together, you really can sit back and watch magic happen.
From the young man who had spent 4 years out of school, who went back to full time education. To the boy who at 11 couldn’t read and write but who telephoned me last week to tell me that he had been accepted to college on the basis of his own handwritten application letter – this combination is something I’ve never forgotten the value of.
It’s why I teach the way I teach, it’s why I started writing at Starlight And Stories, it’s why I set up our facebook group and it’s why I set up Autism Consultancy International.
Our children are more than a strategy. Often people talk about Autism Strategies, or PDA Strategies. They say that this strategy doesn’t work, or that doesn’t work. They criticise the child for not learning. Or blame the parents for not parenting
But the truth is if we look at what a child is capable of, their interests and strengths. And we fit that alongside what feels right to the family. And then we apply personalised strategies to fit the individual things start to work.
And that is exactly what we’re doing in #UNIQUEANDSUCCESSFUL: The Membership
Somewhere no one will ever feel as alone as I did in those early days.
It isn’t a one size fits all kind of programme. It isn’t a course. It’s a lecture from someone who hasn’t walked the walk.
It’s a community. A place where each child and their family comes first. A place where where everyone in it is striving for the best for their child. A place where magic will happen.