Today was the school’s Harvest Festival in the local church. I find my place seated a couple of rows back, actually early for once! The children begin leading in, smartly dressed brandishing their tins of beans for donation to the local food bank. Parents and grandparents around me adopt the meerkat position, desperately scouring the lines of identically dressed pupils for their own creation.
My daughter catches my eye excitedly waving, showing a row of gappy 7 year old teeth, repeating the waving and smiling as she finds her seat on the church pews. My son enters soon after, head bowed shoulders arched forward his Teddy covering one side of his face blocking the view of the parents he passes. He doesn’t see me, he doesn’t look.
Once he’s seated almost directly three rows in front of me the school children are turned to face the audience of parents, ready to start their assembly. My son’s one to one whispers in his ear, discussing whether he will turn and face the audience like the rest of his class mates. He doesn’t. Spotting me in the crowd waving, his one to one tells him and he briefly for a split second turns his head and his eyes find mine, a flicker of acknowledgement, a flicker of a smile before he turns his back on the audience once more.
The rest of the harvest festival assembly continues. The children perform their well rehearsed songs, year group by year group stand and recite poems and readings. I look around at the parents surrounding me, looking at their children happily reciting the words back to them and am suddenly hit with a wave of sadness. How easy it was to take for granted moments like that, moments where my child would simply wave back at me, moments where I would see them read out a line in their school assembly.
Instead I sat watching my son struggle through the assembly. From an outsiders point of view Louie coped well, he sat in his seat, he was quiet and to any onlooker he was happy in his own world. After we lead out, parents and friends of the school commented and said how well he had coped. However through my eyes I see his struggle. I see his anxiety due to the amount of parents behind him, the way he used the toys he had brought with him to cover his eyes from all that surrounded his vision. As he fixated on the toys he had brought he forced himself out of the situation he didn’t want to be in and let himself submerse into the wheels of the toy car he trailed infront of him.
My heart ached as I watched how he used his own coping mechanisms to deal with a situation that caused him such social discomfort. I am filled with pride by the way he adapts, finds and chooses his own coping mechanisms but at the same time I wished more than anything to scoop him up in my arms and take him out of that church.
From an onlookers point of view he was not stressed, he was not upset and he was not uncomfortable but as parents we know our own children and know the signs of their distress. I sat with a lump in my throat throughout the service, willing it to be over.
Greeting me back at the school he was full of his usual excitement almost as if Harvest Festival had never occured and we were never in the church just moments before. I ask him if he enjoyed the church and if he had spotted me to which he told me “he doesn’t want to talk about it.”
Was I sad today because my son didn’t wave back? Slightly. Was I sad because he didn’t sing, or join in with the assembly? Not really. I was sad because he was uncomfortable, I was sad because he was anxious and I was sad because there was nothing I could do about it.
On reflection tonight I think again of the progress he has made. The way he has adopted his own coping strategies and uses them when he needs them in situations such as today. Since starting year 1 in September he has displayed such happiness each and every day and I suppose today shocked me in a strange way. I hadn’t seen him display the emotions he did today in such a long time and it saddened me.
The sadness was fleeting and by tomorrow morning will be forgotten but tonight as I reflect on today’s events I remind myself how far Louie has came and how even though he may not get up and recite a line of poetry in an assembly or even join in a simple song, that ultimately his progress has been astounding since this time last year.
When I first received our sons diagnosis of autism I prayed daily for somebody to show me how life would be in the years to come. To show me in a crystal ball how his life would progress and whether he would be happy and cope with school and all that life brings. As time has passed I have those thoughts less and have confidence in all my children with whatever paths they choose in life. Tonight I will remind myself how far my boy has come, how today he walked into a packed church full of adults and children, how he sat in a church in a completely different layout than he usually sees it and how he used his coping strategies to deal with a situation he found so difficult to process.