There are times when you can forget that Sawyer is autistic, particularly when you are around him a lot of the time. But whereas when he was 2-years-old you could disregard or give reason to the differences in him for maybe an hour at a time, these days it comes as tiny snippets. Fragments of life. Slivers of experience.
Those moments, no matter how brief, can often give cause for parental doubt, particularly when acknowledged by somebody else. You see, albeit with good intention, the world is and always has been desperate to make Sawyer ‘better’. Desperate to play down his symptoms, to call his meltdowns ‘misbehaviour’, and tell me that boys will simply be boys. If you listen to enough people tell you that your child doesn’t seem autistic, you do start to question your own sanity. It’s not that it strips away your voice, but those comments certainly make it harder to speak up in future. The words you want to say still exist, but are pushed inward. Swallowed by doubt.
The first step in finding a new school for Sawyer was telling the Local Authority that we wanted to consider specialist schooling. At this stage they referred the case to a panel meeting, where the situation would be discussed and an initial decision would be made. The panel meetings in our area run every 3 weeks, and as luck wouldn’t have it, the next panel meeting was approximately 2.9 weeks away. Knowing the system as we do, and due to my own fierce impatience, we set about looking for the right school, pre-empting that the process would take some time, and wanting to get things lined up in advance. Autism aside, it’s just how I like to go through life. I don’t know where it comes from, but I don’t like surprises. I like research, logic, and
GETTING MY FUCKING WAY planning.
One week and several school visits later, we had found The School. It had clicked in to place immediately we got there, and suddenly we could visualise Sawyer in a setting other than the mainstream school we had grown so used to. Suddenly, again, there was hope.
I emailed Sawyer’s caseworker on the same day we visited the ‘new school’, and asked to provide my own document of evidence that would go to panel. I didn’t want them to simply agree to investigate specialist school for Sawyer – I wanted them to agree to letting us apply to our school of choice. All at the same time. The panel meetings occurring at 3-weekly intervals meant that if they weren’t convinced of our case at the initial meeting, we would have to wait another 3 weeks to put the case forward again. It woudn’t do. By this point it was already late January and although that sounds a lifetime away from the next school year, in reality it’s more like 6 months of term time, which meant we would need to move fast if we were going to secure a place in time for a September.
2.6 weeks later, we got the news we had hoped for, and our school application was in before I’d even hung up the phone. That’s some sort of reverse exaggeration on my part. The application had actually gone in 2.6 weeks beforehand, which is frowned upon but not against the rules. And that’s something you find out if you happen to trawl Local Authority guidelines as a hobby, which I just happen to do. Hell – in fighting for a place at a good school, 2.6 weeks is a head-start. A short cut. And one that we were sure as hell taking.
The admissions process with the school is one I’ll talk about at a later date, but it was lengthy and anxiety-inducing for all of us. Sawyer was involved in the process throughout (although saved from the bureaucracy and as much of the anxiety as possible) and I think he had actually realised that his school wasn’t working before we had. He didn’t disagree with looking at a new setting, or with the decision about which school was the right choice. He simply understood and accepted it, like some sort of emotional genius.
Nibbling anxiety is something I’ve learned to cope with as a parent. It’s what we do isn’t it? We accept anxiety and we learn to balance it, hopefully raising well-balanced, happy children in the process. But self-doubt left me soaked to the bone yet again when we got the official acceptance letter and start-date from the new school. Suddenly everyone believed me. My husband. The psychologists. The teachers. The local authority. The specialist school. And most importantly – my son.
It felt like Diagnosis Day all over again. The fight was over.
But I had no idea what was coming next.