A week of holiday still ahead and the school dream have started, ugh. New Term Eve will doubtless see teachers and students alike with bags packed, shiny new stationery at the ready and full of optimism and resolutions to stay organised and be co-operative so that we can all work in harmony – it will be beautiful… until the first homework submission date when a chaos of threats, muttered curses and excuses will descend.
Day in, day out, I come into contact with students who are experiencing the trials and tribulations of real life alongside school. When a parental marriage is breaking down, for instance, there will doubtless be an impact on the emotional stability of a child and we are asked, quite rightly, to take this into consideration in certain circumstances – concentration in lessons, ability to organise themselves etc. A reason for a temporary dip in standards it may be, but an excuse for bad behaviour, for example, never.
That seems pretty straightforward when dealing with other people's kids so why is it so much more complicated with my own, I wonder? When does a perfectly good reason become an utterly rubbish excuse?
The first point here is a particular bugbear because, as a general rule, I completely disagree with using autism as an excuse for anything but it is sometimes a valid reason. This is tricky… If Rusty is misbehaving – which he does at times, obviously – then I do not think it is relevant that he has ASD and I would not use it as an excuse because this is how the unhelpful stereotype that "all autistic kids are naughty" is proliferated. It drives me up the wall when people preface every statement with something along the lines of: "my son has ASD and so he can't/won't…" but there is a very, very fine line here and it is all down to how conscious children are of expectations. Because Rusty has had firm boundaries both at nursery and at home, he has some understanding of what is acceptable and not and his language is now at a level that we can actually give him instructions. Because he is cheeky and likes to push his luck, there is usually a telltale grin on his face when he is getting up to mischief that has nothing to do with autism and everything to do with being a little so-and-so!
That is not to say it is always easy to pull him into line because it is not. If he is set on doing something a particular way or takes an interest in something like a door or a tap. we can have a big problem on our hands. But, in this case, is autism a reason rather than an excuse? In these situations, the way we respond also depends on the attitude of the people around us. If someone is staring or tutting under their breath (neither of which is uncommon), I tend to believe that they do not deserve to know anything personal about Rusty and I am content for them to believe that he is just a naughty boy. If people are concerned, interested or actually want to help, then I will happily explain that he finds some situations difficult and does not always behave like other children.
There are days (alright weeks… maybe months…) when I am constantly coming up with reasons or, perhaps more accurately, making excuses not to do things:
"I can't afford it" Often true, thanks maternity pay!
"I haven't got time" Pathetic, just make time.
"I can't because of Rusty" uh oh…
So I am using my son an excuse?! That sounds distinctly uncool but it is really, really hard to create a situation which could potentially be problematic when there is a considerably safer, if more boring, alternative. From a logistical point of view, it is almost impossible for me to do anything with both Rusty and Baby A by myself; a daily trip to the park over the road with the pushchair as well as the scooter represents a major achievement BUT is only possible because the boy is currently in love with with the big swing and I know he will not stray far.
Even when children do not outnumber adults, it takes a certain amount of resolve (and a supply of sweets, plus the iPad for emergencies) to put ourselves out there and stray from the outings which we know are safe and, of course, enriching! In my heart of hearts, I know that he simply does not engage with the kind of activities which most children his age enjoy because he is so developmentally delayed in many areas and, therefore, crafting workshops, sport coaching session and anything which involves TV characters is just not going to appeal. Likewise, meals in busy restaurants or party- or wedding-type affairs all have the potential for disaster and so it feels easier to avoid, for the time being. We have missed many events over the last few years and that probably will not change drastically for a long time but that is what happens when you have a child who is completely reliant on you and, I suspect, why families with disabled children lose friends and often become completely isolated. There is no resentment here; I actually feel privileged to be one of only two people in the world who can respond to all his needs and keep him safe and happy.
Rusty has had a fantastic summer in many ways. It feels as though he has actually matured a lot over the holidays and is the most calm and content that I have ever known him; the periods of manic, uncontrollable behaviour have reduced significantly and his speech continues to develop at a frantic pace. There are times when the language just seems to fall out of him – Freud would have loved the seemingly random trail of thought which he is attempting to vocalise! However, on paper, our holiday looks pretty rubbish. We have not spent any nights away from the house and trips have been limited by the bloody weather so there has been a lot of home time. Why didn't we go on holiday? Lots of reasons but Rusty was definitely one of them and a fear of the unknown.
Maybe we are doing him a terrible disservice here by not exposing him to a full variety of experiences but he is only young, there is lots of time… right? Talk about making excuses!