What I Found in My Autistic Son's School Bag Made Me Burst Into Tears


Another year at school starts. Another year where the odd-looking artwork and short stories will arrive at our house. I’m sure for many parents and guardians, looking through the plethora of items sent home during the school year is an absolute delight. The best pieces make their way to the fridge or are framed for all to see. But it’s not quite the same in our house. It can be bittersweet. Each year we see some sparks of improvement in my son’s work, but he still has difficulty in school. He has a teaching assistant help him all day, every day. Sometimes they help him complete work, and it’s pretty obvious when it happens. Still, we are always extremely proud of his efforts.

Sometimes there is an accidental item in there. We’ve gotten a piece of Romany’s work or Jacob’s work. And that’s what I thought had happened when I picked out this piece. The writing is too small, too neat and too close to the line, I thought. There some capital letters in the right places, and is that an exclamation mark?

little boy's drawing of a person

Our son is in a mainstream school. He has had a diagnosis of autism since he was 4 years old. Though the terminology of the challenges that may make up an autism diagnosis has changed a little in the years since, it still fits that our now 8-year-old has difficulty with his language and his social interaction. He can talk obsessively about topics such as the Formula 1 Grand Prix, whether you are interested or not. He can have difficulty with language and understanding how to use it. He’ll tell the truth even if it’s not something you want to hear. He scripts, reeling off lists. He doesn’t register that he talks loudly. He has little understanding of personal space.

He hasn’t been invited to many birthday parties since his first year at school, and we often still make our excuses, as the events are a bit stressful for him. I can count the number of playdates we’ve had on a single hand. Part of it is the difficulty in organizing one when there are other kids involved and you can’t just leave him somewhere without support.

When we pick him up from school he is excited to say goodbye to his friends, but he still declares his best friend to be his dad (which I secretly love but hope one day he is not.. before maybe being again). Lately he has asked if he could have other friends to play… and I have approached this possibility with the same slightly excited logical outlook for most things with the kids: what would work for us and which of the parents and kids we know it might it work for too. It’s a small list, to be honest, but my latest find makes me wonder if I’ve been underestimating my son.

Among the paintings and rainforest collages this year I found this absolute gem that brought more than a tear to my eye. My find is an outline of a person. “Anthony” is written in plain fine letters across its torso, and multi-colored writing surrounds its body.

The multi-colored writing is from his classmates and is a loving list of things Anthony is good at, (replicated exactly as written):

  • Well, is a good footballer
  • a good learner (thank you teacher)
  • a good runner

Then it gets better:

  • always very happy
  • Friendly and funny
  • a nice person to play with
  • very kind and friendly
  • Fun and really friendly!
  • you will let other people play
  • very friendly
  • A nice person to play whith

Then the joy:

  • is very kind friend – best frind
  • a great friend
  • A fab friend
  • A good friend *
  • A lovely friend
  • The best friend ever!!*

And my absolute favourite:

  • When I ask to play with him he says yes

It’s not all about writing, math, art, etc., and we may understand this more than some other parents. Look at what he finds difficult and then look at what his classmates, his friends, say about him. In the last week we went to a playground where he also found some friends to play with. It’s so lovely to see. So this year on the fridge we have one of his paintings…

“Anthony this is beautiful, can you describe it to me?”

“I’ve forgotten what it is supposed to be”

“It’s lovely, I really like it, shall we put it up.”

“Oh yes,”

…and I’m jumped on as he shows his excitement. And next to it along with some others, is this rather plain outline drawing that reminds my son of his friends and reminds me of how far he really has come.

You can follow Anthony and his family at www.rainbowsaretoobeautiful.com.

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