My son’s school is in a beautiful rural location, situated at the top of a hill overlooking countryside. The route to my son’s school is no less impressive with almost deserted lanes that wind me away from the busy town in which I live to the village where the school is situated. There, half secluded amongst the hedgerows, is a battered wooden gate that sits at the top of a drive that slopes down to the school.
The school itself is a higgledy piggledy mess of a 1960′s build but what it lacks in looks is made up by its position, surrounded by lawns that are bordered by a small wood and fields that sweep down to the valley below. It would be a great spot to sit and admire the view and spend some time ‘daydreaming’ but, as tempting as this is, any such self indulgency will have to wait.
Because at the moment I’m up and down to school nearly every day as I try and expose my son to life outside the home and hopefully get him back to school. It is hard going, as I knew it would be, but at least I have him out of the house. Not like last time when he could hardly get off the settee.
But even so progress is slow. I have managed to get my son to the school gate on a few occasions where we have sat in the car, just him and me, looking at the school through the car windows. He has coped with this quite well, so much so that I went a stage further and drove into the school grounds. Unfortunately the sudden appearance of some students and teachers terrified my son so much that he hid beneath the glove compartment. Nothing I could do or say would encourage him to look out of the car windows so I drove out of the school grounds where he felt safe enough to raise his head. It was a step too far, for the following couple of days my son retreated into the world of fear and autism.
As disheartening as this was, I have continued to show my son his school, albeit from the safety of the school gate. Hopefully when he has regained his confidence with this, I shall once again expose him to the playground and once he is comfortable with that, introduce him to the school and the people in it. And so it will go on until I can get my son settled into school lessons once again.
Well that is my plan, but you know what autism is like, predictably unpredictable. There is no way of knowing how long it will take for my son to regain his confidence, if at all.
But what I do know is that the world is not going to become a less sociable place, a less human place, so somehow I have to find a way for my son to manage the anxiety he gets as a result of human interaction.
There is no easy way to help him overcome this – yes medication alleviates the anxiety somewhat but on its own it is not an overnight cure. As I have learnt from previous experiences, my son has to face his fears or he will never get better. But how far to push is a tricky one; to push too hard, too quickly can exacerbate the fear and worsen autistic behaviours, to not push at all risks limiting my son to a reclusive life and deeper phobias.
This is why I think its important to do things slowly and gradually. By going over and over each step until it becomes easy and familiar to him I can then introduce a new challenge and help him to get used to that, again through repeated exposure. But with every new challenge there is always a risk that he will regress to an earlier stage as he did a few days ago but eventually we hope to get to a point when we can look back and realise he has made significant progress.
Unfortunately it feels as though we are a long way from that at the moment.