Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Autism, School, Empathy, and Brotherly Love

A 'floppy' time during a stressful appointment.
It was a long day for George, who’s now eight. It was his first day back in school after Christmas, and he’s adapting so badly to juniors that he only engages about 50% of the time in his lessons. Most mornings we have to physically dress him – I mean literally, put every item of clothing on him from underwear to shoes. Often he has to be carried downstairs and to the car to leave for school. Sometimes instead of being limp he’s active, and tries to hide in various places around the house to stop us making him go to school. On those kind of mornings we can be kicked, bitten, scratched, and have to man-handle him, fighting, the whole way.

This morning, though, was a floppy morning. He wouldn’t even engage with his pet rabbit. I dressed him like a doll, brushed his hair, and carried him downstairs. He didn’t have breakfast. He did walk to the car, but had to be man-handled into school.

That KFC meal, with all the spicy coating stripped off the chicken
We had a call later to say that he’d lain down on the floor in the reception area, and gone to sleep. He lay there un-reactive to anything – bells, feet tramping around him – until later he pulled himself onto the soft chairs and fell asleep there. In the afternoon he did engage more, but this isn’t the way school should be for anyone. The place is rife with stress for him. No one knows what to do to make it better, but it might come to sending him to a special school. (The problem with that, as always, is money and places.)

So as a treat after their first day back we took the kids to McDonald’s. It was George’s secret, and he was bursting with it. Of course it was too simple to go well straight off. When we got there Ben, now five, started sobbing because he wanted to go to KFC, just across the road. We explained that this was perfectly possible – he and Oscar and I could go to KFC while George and his dad went to McDonald’s. It was all fine. But Ben was still sobbing, because although he wanted to go to KFC he wanted the toy from the McDonald’s Happy Meal. He was distraught, melting down, as he does so often after school.

And then George said in a moment of beatific generosity, ‘Don’t worry. You can go to KFC and you can have the toy from my Happy Meal.’

Two in KFC, one in McDonald's across the way.
George loves his Happy Meal toys. They all do. For him to offer his sobbing five year old brother his toy is a huge act. He understood exactly why Ben was upset and wanted to fix it, and the only way to fix it was by giving up his own toy.

All of the difficulties of the day, all of the stress of thinking about him going to a 'special' school, of him having such a hard time, of trying to work out how the hell to deal with this thing, were momentarily erased in those few words.

Now tell me that people with autism don’t have empathy.

No comments:

Post a Comment