What's Behind My 'Blank' Face as a Teacher With Autism
I am sad tonight. It’s an evening when school staff unanimously celebrate: the last day of the summer term! We’ve all been awaiting it for weeks, counting down, looking forward to the peace and quiet and all the things we will do in our spare time. But I am so very sad, almost unbearably. My sadness, like my autism, is often invisible. It’s too difficult to get it out of me to share it with somebody else, so nobody will know what’s going on inside. Then they say we have no empathy.
I will miss my children. Their parents would perhaps not approve of my calling them “my” children, but I have spent 30 hours a week with them for a year or more, and they are a huge part of my life. Most of them will not be in my class next year. I will miss them climbing on the tables, I will miss them throwing the sand, I will miss them giving me a shove and a shout when I annoy them. The twiddles of my hair, the tired cuddles, the new words, the tiny breakthroughs. Will their new classes learn quickly to understand the words I translate so naturally? Will they realize she needs to perch up high and learns better by watching from a distance? Will they find out how much he can do with the right boundaries? How will their summers be? What will they see and hear? Will they have opportunities to have fun, explore, learn and relax?
I will miss my grown ups. All the team in my new class are new to me. When I go back to school that first day, I won’t be going in to my classroom, my home, with the people who welcomed me, accepted me and became my friends. From the very beginning I felt I could be myself with them, and I willingly invested many spoons in getting to know them, allowing them to support and encourage me, and hopefully doing the same for them. The new team are very nice, all very lovely people. But will they “get” me? Will I ever be able to be comfortable? I can’t explain what it feels like to anticipate those first few weeks. It’s like starting a whole new job, but one I never even applied for. Walking into a room of strangers, and having to spend all day with them. And all of the next day, and the next day, and all the days to come, when just up the corridor is a classroom full of the people who are almost like family.
These are the obvious things I will miss over the summer and in September, but I’ve discovered I will also miss school. I will miss the routine, the familiarity and predictability of the different things we do each day. This is the bit where I’m different from my colleagues. I’ve started to almost get some kind of “holiday anxiety.” It’s come from observing over previous holidays that I don’t function as well when I’m out of routine. My sleeping pattern gets messed up; my eating pattern does the same. I get grumpy because I’m not doing as much exercise. I either see too much or not enough of the outside world. I find it very difficult to find balance.
So tonight, as everyone is out celebrating, I am scared about the coming weeks and particularly September (I started having problems last September after the holidays, and I hadn’t even moved classes then; how on earth am I going to cope this time round?) I am very sad to say goodbye to the children who have become such a big part of me, and to be separated from the people who have got me through some times when I really thought I might break this year.
And you would never know.
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