Autism-thoughts of a father

I have never written a post about my family. About my eldest son’s struggles throughout his education with dyslexia, my second son’s autism, and the difficulties it has given him. It’s not that I haven’t thought about it. It’s probably because I know I can’t tell their stories in a few short posts. It’s a lifetime work! And it’s where to start.

Most recently though, my second son has been having a more difficult time than usual and it has got to all of us a bit. It’s heartbreaking when your son or daughter tell you they have no friends, no one wants to talk to them and they spend most of their time alone. Niall recently said to me ‘I just don’t want to be lonely anymore’.

All through school we fought to be heard, to be understood, to find people who really, genuinely wanted to help and are sympathetic to the difficulties. Niall was statemented at 9 years old when he was in Y5. Up to that point he had been simply regarded as difficult, naughty, cheeky, you name it. I am sure there were those who still felt this to be the case after he got a statement. Our parenting was called into question and what he was generally felt to need was some firm discipline. He had huge problems dealing with instructions, a pragmatic, semantic difficulty means he interprets what he hears differently. He used to panic as a youngster when he mum said she was just going to dive in the bath! Because his problems aren’t extreme it’s easy to think they’re not real, he has never wanted to share them for fear of sticking out. He declined any support throughout high school as in his first term an SEN teacher came into his class and said, in front of everyone ‘Come on Niall, it’s time for your ‘Let’s sort it out’ session.” He tried hard to fit in, to understand the social mores and be accepted.

School was always difficult to get right, not so much academically (although he really doesn’t get maths!) but more socially and emotionally. He interprets things literally, speaks out of turn and inappropriately, but is devastated when such misdemeanours are pointed out. Forging good relationships with staff proved hard and with peers even harder. He has one good friend who he has known since he was five years old but beyond this, he struggles socially.

He was recently told by ‘friends’ at college that no one liked him, they found his behaviour odd and didn’t know how to deal with him. We’re currently working through this with him, telling him that as people get older difference are celebrated rather than ridiculed, that his unique outlook and creativity will serve him well as he enters adulthood. I hope the constant encouragement and support from home can balance the difficulty he faces daily beyond it.


About smichael920

Headteacher of a large primary school in North West England. Helping me to blur the distinction between work and home, I am also father of five, covering most phases of education thus giving me the lowdown from within and without. Education is about enjoying today and preparing for tomorrow. This can't be done using the tools of the past. View all posts by smichael920

8 responses to “Autism-thoughts of a father

  • Julia Skinner

    What an emotional post to write Michael. It must be so difficult for you all.

    I was wondering if there was an opportunity for Niall to explain life from his viewpoint. Now that he is older & at Collage could he maybe do a small presentation perhaps with support from his friend or tutor about what he finds difficult, a little about autism and how he feels. It won’t silence everyone but might win some understanding. Just a thought.

    • smichael920

      Thanks so much for the feedback and support Julia. It’s all very up and down with us and I will talk to Niall about these ideas. He really has lot to offer and is a very smart, creative person in so many ways. We’re in a difficult place every now and again but I know it could be so much worse. I’ve never wanted to write a post about such things but I think we’ve reached a point where it might be helpful. Thanks once again for your thoughts and suggestions.

      Sent from my iPhone

  • Barry Carpenter

    hi Michael. The isolation our children with SEN feel is painful to watch. Friendships are so important to their self esteem, and emotional well being. Have you looked at any support groups in the area where Niall may meet people like himself, ( National Autistic Society keep a register).
    Wish we could have spoken about this face to face at Conference, and maybe sometime when I am in Blackpool we will.
    It is good that as a Father you are expressing your thoughts and feelings.
    I have some articles I have written on Fathers. If you think they may help to contextualise where you are at I can send them. Let me know at my usual email. Take care, of yourself , and of your family.

    • smichael920

      Thanks so much for your comments Barry. As I know you’re all too well aware it is a lot of ups and downs and a few weeks ago we were facing the latter! Hence the post. I haven’t written about things before but I guess it all got on top of me. I would love to read your articles and will email you. Thaks again.

  • Mary Ellen Wessels

    My heart goes out to you! That sounds so much like our oldest son who is now 11. I’m not sure he’s made a lot of friends at school but he has a lot of fun with friends he knows through science fiction fandom. There is a high incidence of Aspergers in Fandom and a general level of both tolerance and appreciation of intellect that certainly isn’t the rule in middle school. I hope your son finds a “family” of friends that he will feel comfortable in!

    • smichael920

      Many thanks Mary, it has been so useful to hear from people such as yourself and I know we all experience worrying times, paticularly around adolesence. I hope everything is going well for you and your family.

  • Kirsten

    Understanding who you are, and accepting who you are, and loving yourself, are such important steps for all of us, and doubly difficult for people who are “different”. Many of the people we revere as geniuses were/are Aspergers; it seems to me that there is a “payoff” to be made if one has a great talent in one area, one is likely to be disadvantaged in others. have you read about the life of Temple Grandin? I first read about her years ago in an Olive Sachs book. You and your son might find her useful?

    • smichael920

      Thanks for your supportive words Kirsten. I often tell Niall that most of his peers will have spent thier time in school trying to fit in and now they’ve left, they will spend their time trying to be different! I have told him he should celebrate his uniqueness and idiosyncracies and I think on good days he does. It is just trying to keep him bouyant on the low days which is the tough bit. He really does hit the lows but I hope as he gets older it will be less difficult to deal with. Thanks for the link.

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