Natasha (mother of 4 children, including 3 autistic children): My emotions when my children started preschool and school I think were probably very similar to typical parents. You’ve got those tears, ‘Oh, my baby’s going to school, and they don’t need me anymore and they’re independent.’ I think it’s just a bit more intensified when you’ve got special needs, because you worry that little bit more because you know that it just takes one child to go up into their face and go, ‘Baaahhhh,’ or be silly, as typical kids do, for your child to freak. You’re constantly worrying, ‘What’s my child going to react to and what’s going to happen? How will the other kids perceive them?’ So there’s always that little bit of extra worry in the background of your mind, that, ‘what’s going to go wrong?’
Kerry (mother of 2 children, including son Campbell, 7 years, who is autistic): Campbell starting school created a lot of anxiety and fear as to whether he would be safe. Safety was number one. Whether he would fit in, whether they would cope, whether the kids would make fun of him. All those things that I guess even a normal kid has to go through. Normal kids have to go through this, but with him it’s all elevated. Will they be able to cope with one of his meltdowns? What happens if he hurts another child? We had really good staff who’ve said, ‘Look, it’s a work in progress. There’s going to be days, two steps forward, one step back.’ And there were days it felt like pushing a snail, it really did. There were days where it just felt like you would go backwards. Then something would just come out of the blue and you’d go, ‘Oh, my goodness. Did he just get that? Did he just do that? Did he just say that?’ And things would just come out of nowhere. When you’ve been finally working that hard and it just all connects, it’s amazing.
Mariela (mother of Beth, 14 years, who is autistic): Beth, last year, started saying, ‘I want to go back to school,’ and for me, it was good, because it meant emotionally she was ready to face school again. She wasn’t worried about, were they going to hurt her, or were they going to pick on her. So for Beth I was excited, for me, I was freaking out, but I don’t think I’m ever going to stop freaking out. She’s got a great teacher and that helps. So for Beth, I’m really happy.
Onscreen text: Looking ahead
Kerry: I always say reach out for any help for any help you can get. Any help you can get. We had a team of people who would come to the house and do therapy with him one-on-one and that made a huge difference because everybody needs a bit of a break once in a while.
Natasha: Over time I think you do develop an inner strength that helps you get through those moments and you do look back and say, ‘Wow, you know, where we were five years ago to now is just such a very different place.’ It’s like everything’s fallen into place. It’s like you’ve got this peace about you because you know that it’s going to be okay.
Kerry: You don’t know what that journey’s going to be like. No-one could ever have told me what it was going to be like. And now we’ve come to the point where there is that light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m sure there’s still plenty of challenges to come, but we’ve kind of just recognised him for who he really is. Not trying to change him, not trying to fix the autism, but just recognising the small, little things that happen every day and appreciate those, because I look back five years ago and I thought he would never get there.