2015 was the most difficult year of our lives so far. But it was also a year in which our little family learnt so much about love, our own strength, and came to terms with the fact that we will forever be a family on the spectrum. The most profound words I heard this year were from my amazing sister-in-law: “Autism is not a dirty word”, and this was a singular moment that really made the Mr and myself realise that as long as we hedge and shy away from saying it loudly and clearly that our son is autistic, we will continue to harbour some latent shame over who he is. And we have found that telling others about Aiden’s diagnosis is very often the start of a pretty profound conversation. It can be a random stranger on the Tube who is baffled by why Aiden cannot respond to a polite request to move his foot, and when told he’s autistic, shows a real interest in what it means for him and us. It can also lead to very deep questions by Little Miss H about what life will hold in store for Aiden, will he ever make a friend, will he ever have a conversation, will he ever go to a ‘normal’ school, will life for him ever be easy?
2015 was also the year that taught us the meaning of the cliched never say never. We never thought we’d be able to live apart. Yet here we are: our little family torn in two across two continents. We thought we would never take Aiden out of mainstream school. Yet here we are with Aiden not in school anymore because the lack of understanding and inclusion meant that being at school was doing him more harm than good. I thought I would never be able to teach him anything. Yet here we are having a fairly decent go at home schooling.
2015 taught us a lot about kindness. There was the support from family and friends that helped us through the roughest bits and their unflagging optimism helped us keep things in perspective. But there was also a number of heartwarming instances of complete strangers reaching out to us and their help and sometimes momentary kindness, whether it was encouraging Aiden to pet their dog, or a family in a similar situation helping us jumps through the hoops to get Aiden the support he needs, shone a light that helped restore faith in the goodness that we believe is inherent in most people. I have now had profoundly informative conversations with complete strangers about life with autism that have lifted me up. These people took a few minutes to try to understand a situation rather than resort to judgement. Those few minutes of their time brightened up my day and, in some cases, helped Aiden have a positive interaction that helped his confidence grow just a little bit and helped him come out of his shell for a few minutes as he enjoyed some new experience. There have been a number of such lovely people whose life touched ours for a few brief minutes. We were left richer by those moments and I hope they went away with a little more understanding that autism is not all an individual is, that they are as complex and unique as neurotypical people are.
Looking ahead to 2016, we hope there will be more answers rather than more questions. We hope that the children continue to grow and come into their own. We hope that we able to find a school for Aiden where there is an understanding of the complexity and range of challenges and abilities that make up the autism spectrum. We hope, above all else, that we reach a point where our ability to live together as a family and Aiden’s access to the support he needs are no longer mutually exclusive.
Here is our little family sending big loads of love to you all. May your 2016 bring you peace and joy. If you do one thing in the new year make it this: promise yourself to do one small act of kindness every day. You may never know how much your understanding and support of a single moment might mean to someone.
Happy New Year