It was the summer of 2010 and there we were in the middle of a jumble sale in a church hall when our son suddenly declared that he wanted to go to scouts. We were delighted by our son’s sudden enthusiasm for at the time he was out of school due to agoraphobia (more about this here). So, after having discussed our son’s difficulties with the scout leaders and feeling reassured that they would look after him, we agreed to let him go. To help him settle into his new surroundings, we then spent a few weeks accompanying him at the scout hut until he was happy to be left. And from there, he soon found the courage to go on local outings with his group. This was a big step in our son’s recovery from agoraphobia and naturally we were over the moon.
And this is how it continued for a number of months until various incidents happened which suggested things were not as they should be.
The first incident happened when I went to collect my youngest daughter from school one afternoon. A mother who I knew through school came up to me and after the initial pleasantries said “Your son is not autistic”. Just like that “Your son is not autistic”. I was shocked that someone with no experience of autism felt compelled to talk to me in this way. I was even more angry that she was telling me about my son. Would she have spoken to a parent of a child with a physical disability in this way? Nevertheless I managed to hide my disgust and explain what my son’s autism meant for him. Now it was her turn to be speechless as I challenged her with my ‘knowledge’ about my son. Not surprisingly we haven’t spoken since, another casualty of autism which is the norm for parents like me.
But I was left wondering how she learnt about my son’s difficulties. This wasn’t information that I had shared with her or anyone else within the school-gate community and in any case my son was not at school. He had dropped out a year earlier no longer able to cope with mainstream school. Somehow the news of my son’s autism had got out but how?
Then I found out that this woman was friendly with another parent at the school who just happened to be one of the scout leaders. My heart sank. Had telling the scout leaders about our son’s autism fed into school ground gossip that disputed his disability? I hated the thought that my son and his disability were the focus of idle gossip behind my back; if people didn’t understand my son’s difficulties then why couldn’t they just ask me?
Not surprisingly, I now started to question whether this scout group was right for my son. At the same time, I was also a bit concerned that my son was not fully participating in scouts as he still could not travel very far or join in with the more adventurous activities due to his high levels of anxiety. Nevertheless, my son appeared to enjoy the local activities which in itself was significant progress for him so I was content to let things continue for the time being.
But then an incident happened with his shoes. He returned from scouts one evening with damaged shoes and I asked him what had happened. He replied that [name] had broken his shoes. I sat bolt upright because the person he named was someone who had previously been an accomplice of a bully who had targeted my son months earlier. At the same time, my son was also avoiding going to the local shop with me just in case this boy from scouts was there. Clearly things were going on but before I even had chance to discuss these issues with the scout leaders, my son then told me that he wouldn’t be going to scouts ever again. When I pressed further he told me that he was always being called names and he had no friends.
This happened a few weeks ago and to date we have had no communication from the scouts enquiring as to our son’s welfare so its obvious to me that they don’t care. At some point I will raise these issues with them but for now I am left feeling saddened that my son has been denied the opportunity of enjoying the activities that so many other children take for granted.