Thank you to … my autistic son's teacher, to whom I'm grateful every day
How funny that it feels entirely normal writing to you. We already write to each other, I realise with a jolt of familiarity, every single day of term. In the age of email, I know your handwriting as intimately as my own. When my son arrives home I fall on his bag with a hunger – OK, nosiness – reserved for parents seeking news of their child’s average, hopefully unremarkable school day. I rummage through the detritus of a half-eaten lunch (still not going for the sandwich, apples obviously gone) and find the diary in which our entries appear.
How I anticipate this small, thrilling exercise book, which has become a mainstay of family life, filled with the ongoing conversation between you – our son’s teacher – and us, his parents. How grateful I am for the precious cargo it contains, being the parent of a child who finds it hard to tell me about his life. This worn book contains all our lives. The small victories and challenges, the progress made, thwarted, then remade; the triumphs of communication, social interaction; school trips achieved (I can’t believe you got him on that bus!); new foods tried, new words spoken, the sudden voracious reading; and above all, every single day, the unwavering commitment to meet the needs of our child. To understand him, help him, celebrate him. I think of all our careful words ferrying back and forth across Edinburgh, transported by one of the nine boys with additional needs, to your class. The one who belongs to me. My brilliant, exuberant, autistic, six-year-old son.
It won’t surprise you to hear that it was one of the most difficult decisions of our lives, deciding whether he would be better off in a mainstream or specialist setting. Cuts in funding for pupils with special educational needs have been brutal, as we all know, and devastating for families like ours. In another, kinder, time we probably would have opted for mainstream because I believe in inclusion and know my son could thrive in the local primary school … with the right support. In the time in which we all find ourselves, however, we didn’t want to see if he would manage. We wanted him to be happy. So we applied for specialist provision.
Well, we hit the jackpot. My son is now a pupil in his second year of a specially tailored language class where he is following the national curriculum at his own pace, in his own idiosyncratic (often mysterious) way. Not a day goes by when I’m not grateful that my son is one of your pupils. You, an ex-speech and language therapist and teacher fresh out of training and on your first job, who he talks about all the time. You, who we recently found out is soon leaving the school.
The change will be hard for all of us, particularly my son. Already he is talking about you being “at Edinburgh Waverley”, which, as you know of our train-obsessed boy, is where he often imaginatively sends people when they say goodbye. To his favourite place on earth. The station.
We miss you already, Emma and we thank you. Edinburgh Waverley is lucky to have you.