Thomas – at five and a half – is a challenge.
His autism isn’t catastrophic. He’s high-functioning, meaning he can read, write and add up, and hold a conversation, on his own terms. If you met him on a good day you’d scarcely know that anything was wrong. But he has needs and the world has to be a certain way, and woe betide if it is not. We have had our share of supermarket meltdowns and tantrums over mealtimes, of particular cutlery and routines. You deal with it, because that’s your job as a parent.
And in many respects I wouldn’t have him any other way. For one thing, when Thomas latches on to something it becomes an obsession. His current obsession is Doctor Who and everything about it. He is particularly interested in regeneration. Holding a conversation about the show is seldom straightforward, but if you persevere his insights are canny and often amusing. I know we can always talk about it together, and that’s reassuring.
But it’s become more than that: it’s become a conduit, a way through which we can reach him. Looking after Thomas is a team effort and one of the key players is Miss O, his teaching assistant, who has been utterly fabulous with him during their six months together – a period in which she’s interacted with him on an almost full-time basis. Miss O is cross-referenced in the dictionary under ‘going the extra mile’. Her work is tireless and built almost entirely around his Who fixation because she knows that’s what works. She creates puzzles and worksheets with time travel themes and refers to him as ‘Doctor Thomas Who’ (yes, I know that’s not really correct, but he’s five!). His cubicle at school is done up like a TARDIS. And given that she’s moving on today in order to complete her training and then go on to teach some lucky group of school children, I wanted to mark the occasion, which explains the photograph above and the ones to follow.
If you really want to read the whole post, it’s available on my parenting blog. In the meantime, here are those photos.