The reality of back to school day when your child has autism – Hull mum’s brutally honest account

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The reality of back to school day when your child has autism – Hull mum’s brutally honest account

Little Sadie loves the idea of school and thrives on structure – but the idea is very different to the reality.

Instead of being excited for her first day like so many other children were, on he morning of the first day back to school, the six-year-old was unable to get up off the floor.

The Bransholme school pupil has autism, autism related anxiety, sleep issues, dyspraxia and sensory processing disorder, so something like returning to school which would come so easily to other children is very difficult for her.

While many parents were sharing pictures of their children smiling for the camera and dressed in their new school uniform ready for their first day back at school, the only image Sadie’s mum could get of her was one of her lying on the floor, having a meltdown.

“That photo breaks my heart,” said mum Kellie Colson. ‘This is the side to parenting a girl with high functioning autism that a lot of people do not see. She is full of anxiety and worries here.

“She has been excited, but she’s so but she’s so very anxious and every little things is turning into a big thing.

Kellie and her daughter Sadie
Kellie and her daughter Sadie

“She loves the idea of school, and the structure – when it doesn’t change without her knowing – she’s also extremely clever but processes things in a different way, so if work isn’t changed a little, she gets easily confused.”

Ms Colson has opened up about what it is like for a child with special educational needs (SEN) to raise awareness.

She says due to the fact her daughter looks the same as every other child, it can cause ignorance.

“It’s very hard for people who are not in my situation, to see past the fact Sadie doesn’t look any different to anyone else,” she said. “She often gets labelled as spoilt or a brat when she does meltdown.”

Anxiety about school

Sadie’s anxiety about going back to school started six days before she was due to go back.

“That’s when she started repeating the same questions, which was, ‘I wonder what day PE will be on’.

“That was followed by many sleepless nights with her, and more questions of similar nature.”

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The night before school Sadie was very excited and laid out her uniform. Her mum had cut out all of the tags out of her clothes, as requested, but the next morning it was very different.

“She took a long time choosing breakfast,” her mum said, “unable to make a choice and getting angry if I asked her what she wanted. Sadie didn’t have any breakfast in the end.

“She got dressed fine, happy, smiling. She didn’t want her hair brushed, there was a lot of screeching, I had to make sure bubbles and clips matched. This was followed by her going quiet and rolling around the floor, then the issues with her feet started.

“She wasn’t able to put socks on, she said because her feet hurt. Same with her shoes, they were too tight.

“We walked the two minutes to school and as it got busier her hand grip tightened and she started saying things like, ‘I hope I make a new friend’.”

Sadie at her happiest
Sadie at her happiest

Sadie likes to be first at the door, and worries about being late. She likes to get through the door without anyone touching her.

Her mum said: “I watched as she nervously walked around looking for her new peg, it’s not where she was expecting as she was told they’d put it on an end, and it was right in the middle.

“I reminded the teacher and walked away. I will be dreading the pick up time, as the day’s anxiety often spills out in the form of tantrums and meltdowns.”

Sadie also has a very limited idea of friendship.

Her mum said: “She hasn’t mentioned any of her school friends all holidays.

Sadie finds it hard to play with friends
Sadie finds it hard to play with friends

“She comes across as very sociable in the playground, often bossy. But if she is observed more closely they would see between the lines like her paediatrician described, Sadie will often dictate games, as it’s a way of being in control.

“If another child tries to change the rules or the game, Sadie can’t cope and will either go play alone or cause a fuss.”

“Sadie gets very protective of her possessions, she will share, but she just feels like her world is invaded.”

Watch: How to spot the signs of autism

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Sadie is currently at a mainstream school. Her mum doesn’t feel she has s previously had the right level of support, but with the help of the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information Advice and Support Service (Sendiass), she hopes this will improve for Sadie in Year Two.

Sadie was diagnosed in July after her family paid privately due to long NHS waiting lists. Her mum hopes this will help her at school.

“Now with a diagnosis we are hoping we may get taken more seriously. I really hope that in Year Two we see the starts of her additional needs being recognised, and the appropriate support given, so she can be more comfortable attending school and to be able to reach her full potential in learning.

“For things to be easier for Sadie, she likes to know as much information as possible with a lot of advance notice.

Kellie and Sadie at a happier time
Kellie and Sadie at a happier time

“She also needs visual explanations to help too. She is very articulate and clever, but can be slow at processing information.

“Something so simple as a fly in the room or an unplanned change can cause a huge amount of bother, which manifests at home.”

Learning to live with autism

Ms Colson said every child with SEN is different.

She said: “I have to teach her that her autism is who she is, and that it’s not a problem or an inconvenience.

“It is just the way she was born and her brain is mapped different and as she gets older, we learn how to read her map better so she can get the best out of life.

“I feel early support is essential in learning self worth and self identity. Being different is not an inconvenience at all – it’s a blessing if we do the right things.”

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