Whenever I’ve collaborated on a piece of writing, it has involved everything you would imagine it would: research, brainstorming, numerous conversations with ideas bouncing off one-another, and the merging of memories and thoughts.
But with Sawyer as my co-writer, things will need to be a little different. Brainstorming now will consist of ideas being breathlessly thrown at me as he runs past me on his way from the garden to his bedroom. If I’m lucky, I’ll manage to slow him down long enough to get a small elaboration, or to give a suggestion that he may or may not hear, and then I’ll wait for the next time he passes by to find out if any more thoughts have grown in his absence. Sawyer’s contributions to conversation often work like that. He will disappear mid-way through a sentence without so much as a goodbye (which you get used to) and will reappear some time later (could be minutes, hours, or days) to finish the thought process. To love Sawyer is to accept that conversations with him are often not linear, and to practice patience while you wait for his attention to return.
“I’m the co-writer AND the editor!” Sawyer squealed as he finished reading my last post.
We had spoken about the new direction of the blog, but this was the first time he had seen it published online. His pride filled the room through his enormous smile, and with his brief but undivided attention, I decided to ask him what he thought we should write about next.
When Sawyer answers a question, he often states it in a way that makes you rethink your own intelligence – as though the answer was obvious all along, and he simply can’t believe you went to the trouble of asking the question in the first place.
“From the end of the last chapter, of course!” he sang as he sprung from the room and bounced out of the back door.
And so, we shall pick up where we left off: Where mainstream school had stopped working, where we found the school we thought would work for Sawyer, and where we began the formal admissions process.
The New School
On a recent walk to the end of the village – a welcome break from isolation – I asked Sawyer how he had felt the first time we discussed the possibility of him moving schools.
“I was pretty happy” he said, “I just couldn’t stop having all those tantrums at my old school”.
He ran ahead, chasing his sister, leaving the dagger of his words still twisted firmly in to the top of my stomach. We’ve addressed the word ‘tantrum’ many times in the past, but despite explanations of how different a tantrum is to an autistic meltdown or sensory overload, he clearly still believed that at the root of his school change, was his ‘bad behaviour’. It breaks my heart to think he lives with that misconception, but hey, since he’s editing this blog from now on, perhaps the words will sink in now that they’re published.
A meltdown is not the same thing as a tantrum, and it does not equate to bad behaviour. Meltdowns are intense responses to overwhelming situations, and in Sawyer’s case, were happening because he could not cope with mainstream school.
The first time Sawyer visited his new school was during an assessment day, where specialist teachers, educational psychologists, occupational therapists and other professionals spent time with him, assessing his needs. The purpose of the visit was not to acclimatise Sawyer to the school, but rather to ensure the school felt they were able to offer the techniques, services and interventions he would need in order to thrive.
When that day came around, I was more nervous than I had imagined I would be. Because Sawyer has high-functioning autism, and because of the struggles that come with that, I live with a bizarre version of imposter syndrome, worrying that people wont quite see him the way I do. That their 30 minute snippet wont allow them to see all of his unusual, wonderful, incredible quirks, or that the things that make life more difficult for him wont come up, or will be overlooked. My hands gripped the steering wheel hard as we drove to the potential new school, and yet Sawyer sat in the back seemingly unaffected by the disruption, and by nerves. When I ask him about the journey he says that he was busy reading his Mario encyclopaedia, and that he remembers traffic as we came off the ‘big road’. He’s right, of course. Both of those things are true. And I find it both reassuring and incredible that the presence of his favourite book was enough to keep him calm, when nothing I had found was able to make me feel the same way.
Without knowing how Sawyer would react, we couldn’t risk going too far from the school that day. We shopped locally, desperately trying to keep our minds off it, me checking my phone every 30 seconds and insisting we drove back to the school with half an hour to spare. As we re-entered the school grounds, Sawyer’s laughter and shrill, excited voice filled the air. He was outside, happy. Playing. Happy. As he jumped in to the car, he smiled at the ‘well done’ Easter egg that was waiting for him (smarties – he reminds me), and he announced that he would be happy to start at the new school. He explained that he would miss his friends, but that he would see them around anyway, and we all drove home. Lloyd won’t remember this, but he rested his hand on mine as we drove home. And it meant a lot.
The Easter break followed immediately after Sawyer’s assessment day, meaning we wouldn’t know if he had been accepted for a long 2.5 weeks. Despite my best efforts, there was a Speech and Language Therapist who needed to submit a report before an offer could (potentially) be made, and so…. again… we waited. And waited. And waited. I only remember the anxious void of unknowing, but Sawyer says he didn’t even think about the new school, but remembers an egg hunt on Easter Sunday, that we went to visit friends for a BBQ, and that he almost got paint on his shirt. I envy him in many ways, but his optimism is the biggest.
Almost 3 weeks later, the call came while I was at work. I don’t remember what I said on the phone, but I do remember my friend and colleague cheering quietly behind me, and gripping my shoulder as I hung up the phone. I often remember other people’s reactions to our journey more than I do my own. I suppose it is easier to empathise with other people than with yourself sometimes, even when you’re in the centre of the situation at hand. I couldn’t make sense of my own feelings – but I could make sense of hers. I realise now (literally, right now) that those memories of how others react to our autism journey actually connect pieces of memory that my brain had blanked out due to emotional overload. And piece together memories that I wouldn’t otherwise have.
I realised Sawyer had autism – yet it is my sister’s support that I remember.
Sawyer’s diagnosis came – and my boss’s words are what I remember.
I started writing my blog to make sense of my emptions – and my parents’ pride is what I remember.
When we drove away from the new school after assessment day, my husband’s hand on my knee that I remember.
And when we got the YES from Sawyer’s new school – the love of my friend is what I remember.
The Old School
On Sawyer’s last day of his old school, he was excited that the attention would be on him. Sawyer loves to dominate conversations, and that is easier if everyone is focused on the same goal.
I collected him at 3.30pm, and he appeared at the classroom door with cards and gifts, and full of information for me. He ushered me in to the class and I swallowed back tears as we said goodbye to, in particular, the two teaching assistants who had looked after him so well. No – really. They had done everything they could for Sawyer and I will never have words to express how thankful I am for that dedication. In the end, Sawyer needed to leave that school, but he left in a good emotional state. And he had learned.
Finally, Sawyer and I left his classroom, and then his playground, for the final time. I put my hand on his shoulder and looked down at him as his bottom lip curled and he sniffed back tears.
“Are you okay, mate?” I asked him.
“Not really” he sang, and sniffed.
“But I will be”.
**This blog was co-written by Sawyer, aged 9 **