My Initiation Into Special Needs Parenting

I’m new at this special needs thing, and at the same time it’s old hat. It’s new, because the label is shiny and new, and all the bits of help the label is supposed to bring are only slowly creaking into place.

And in the meantime, I am drowning.

It’s also old hat, because for two and a bit years, we’ve been dancing around the edges of the playground, having conversations with teachers about her not quite fitting the normal. She is, as I read so eloquently recently, an oh-so magical unicorn in a school made for horses. I guess I had hoped that we could paint her to look like all the other horses, or something, but she won’t stay still long enough. (Also, I don’t think I really tried that hard.)

And in the meantime, I’m drowning. And learning. And unlearning – which is a tricky business.

I’m not a fully paid up member of the special needs club yet, but I’m not doing too badly in earning my dues. When I tried to initiate some conversation with one of Little Person’s teachers (yes, she has two), I was told “But she doesn’t look like she has autism.”

Because, you know, unless you look like Rain Man, you don’t have autism.

Same conversation, she added, “Of course, we’re all on the spectrum in some way.” No. Just no. That’s like saying we’re all a bit clinically depressed because we get upset when we hear bad news. I wanted to tell her what I saw in the ADOS assessment. I wanted to tell her what the paediatrician had told us about the report that led to diagnosis. But I also didn’t want to.

And in the meantime, I’m drowning.

(The other teacher is lovely, by the way. The other teacher doesn’t dismiss Little Person’s fears as inconsequential, or get vaguely annoyed when I ask her to re-explain things when Little Person has taken her a little too literally.) But it’s Mrs P (that stands for Patronising) that I had to ask for help from last year, when Little Person was stressed to the max and acting out at home. And it was Mrs P who organised for me to sit with a parent support worker or something.

They wanted me to do an internet parenting course. Because, you know, if Little Person is anxious, and I get a little anxious and I want extra resources to help, then an internet parenting course is so what I need. I looked at it. All about house rules, and giving praise and being specific and being disciplined. Which works wonderfully with typically developing children. I know, because I have used these techniques to turn monstrously-behaved little people into quite well behaved and generally much happier little people on more than one occasion. Granted, they aren’t my children, but still. Thing is, what works on a horse ain’t necessarily going to work on a unicorn. And it doesn’t help to tell the unicorn-wrangler that she’s bad at training horses because the unicorn keeps jumping the fence.

And in the meantime, I’m drowning.

But there’s still hope. Because Mrs P and her parent support worker aren’t the end of the story. The unicorn who re-interprets the maths homework shows me beautiful places. She shows me joy, and love, and how words aren’t all that matter. She’s taught me to stop and realise that there’s way more to this world than I could ever imagine. She’s shown me what a fantastic parent The Dude is. And somehow, in facing up to the arrogance of people who assume to know better than us what it means to be us, she’s shown me that I’m a pretty good parent too.

So no, I am not going to do your internet parenting course. I’m going to do the one about helping unicorns shine. I’m going to learn to make fields big enough to keep my unicorn safe, until she’s strong enough to fly on her own. Together, the three of us will find a way.

And in the meantime, I think that may be firm ground under my feet.


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