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The Words I Want My Autistic Daughter to Remember as School Begins

All my children are getting ready to return to school. Two of my children love school, but for my middle daughter who is autistic, school is a very stressful place. She is now 12 and entering the second year of her secondary education. Her best friend from her class moved away this summer, so she is returning with the knowledge that she will have to push herself socially if she wants to make another friend in her class.

My daughter is the most wonderful, kind friend you could ever ask for. She is so incredibly loyal and loving. She buys her friends friendship bracelets and never forgets to take in sweets or chocolate when it is their birthday. It’s the making of friends where she struggles. The “putting yourself out there” and forming the friendship just doesn’t come naturally to her.

As her mother I often feel nervous at the end of her first day, first week, first month back at school. This doesn’t just go for after the summer break; transitioning after any break (including the weekend) can be tricky. My daughter is maturing and she has told me she wants to try really hard this year. She has said she wants to try and complete more homework and stay in all her lessons. My reply to her was simple.

I want her to be happy. Her happiness outweighs her grades and her homework. If she has the option between looking after herself or pushing herself to meltdown, I want her to leave the homework or the class and look after herself. I wish I could help her realize that her education isn’t within all those tests and force-fed facts. Her education will be lifelong, and by caring for herself first and foremost, it will set her up for a lifetime of fun and adventure.

I racked my brain to think of how I could help her. I know she is of an age where I need to let go and she needs to help herself. So along with our back-to-school preparation, we talk about managing work and emotions and conversation starters we could say to people, like “how was your holiday?” This year we have made a happy thought box filled with positive affirmations about self-care and self-love. All my children will get to take a card at the start of the day and return it at the end of the day as a way of reminding them to “be strong,” “look after themselves” and to remember above all else, when they are having a tough day, I love them.

Returning to school is difficult for all kids, and especially tricky for those with school anxiety. I know I have to let my children go and let them figure their own way. I just hope sending them with a reminder of love may make it a little bit easier for them.

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