No First Day At School Picture

Indirectly, society, some of my friends and family, Facebook and my conditioning, are all telling me, that I should be sad today. I should be sad that my son should be starting his first day at school today and that he is not.

I sense the eyes of onlookers. I hear the whispers of concern. I am aware of others values and beliefs.

Many of these values and beliefs were previously shared by me too. Before I needed to re-examine them, that is.

This week I have asked myself whether I feel upset, or envious, as the children pass by our window on their way to school, or by the many photos on my news feed of children in their pristine school uniforms standing by their front doors?

Have I felt upset this week, despite this armour I often feel the need to wear?

My truth is actually somewhat different to this. As I sit here watching my son learning through play with his new, PDA informed, tutor, in our home; I feel relieved, I feel reassured and I feel immense gratitude.

Perhaps you’ll consider this aberrant? Some of you may. But I know there will also be many of you also walking this path, that will absolutely get this.

My feelings are informed by a stark understanding about the extent to which our son’s sensory, social and everyday demands, will not be met, accepted or respected in the school based settings otherwise available.

They are also informed by the knowledge of how unbearably intense a classroom environment would be for him.

I feel thankful that this knowledge is deeply integrated into my understanding of, and my connection with, my son. I know, that by not sending our child off to school today, his beautifully sensitive and attuned, 4 year old nervous system, will not have to endure a painful and overwhelming environment everyday, something he simply could not cope with.

I have observed how immensely damaging structured groups are to the very core of our son’s being. I have been his safe space every time we have returned home and he is exhausted after being bombarded with demands. I am always the one who is there when he can’t hold on any more and his distress tumbles out.

I am also with him everyday as he struggles to manage even very low – demand schedules, let alone the complex environment of school.

I know the irreparable damage that would be caused to his whole wellbeing, if we ignored all of the evidence he has shown us, of which there is so much.

In a week when I am expected to feel some sadness, I predominantly feel immense gratitude. Gratitude that my son has been able to unequivocally communicate to us what he needs. I feel thankful that his needs have also been assessed and reported by some key professionals. I feel thankful that we have a specialist assessment report that recommends a non school based education. I feel thankful that we have been able to tune into the needs of his neurodivegent bodymind.  I also feel immense gratitude for all those who have helped us to gain this understanding of his identity.

I won’t deceive you though. It would be disingenuous and misleading if I was to give the impression that I am so assured in all of this, that I don’t feel vulnerable in our decision. 

Carving out a different path is daunting, challenging and exhausting. I am constantly learning how to lean into my vulnerability, to sit with my emotions and find the courage to trust in the process.  

Most importantly, I am learning everyday how to provide my son with the space he needs to be who he is, and the freedom he needs to learn on his terms.

None of this is easy, I am not good at feeling vulnerable, I need a high level of safety and control too.

I’m sure many of you will relate though, to how our incredibly powerful love for our children, powers us through. Becoming a parent has provided me with a strength that has been the most growthful and positive of my life.

Together, my boy, we can and we will figure this out.

If you like this page, you may want to visit the accompanying Facebook too:

By Jessica Matthews

Writer, home educator and Autistic advocate, with specialisations in psychology, polyvagal theory, Autistic / neurodivergent wellbeing.
BACP Integrative therapist, Post Grad training in Clinical Psychology , BSC Psychology Hons degree.

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