When I first arrived from Australia to Manchester in 2002 I really struggled to settle into a job. After six months I decided to return to my original career of caring for adults with disabilities. After a little while, my agency told me work was drying up, and would I work with children. Children? I wasn’t really sure about it, but my manager reassured me that they were just adults in miniature and I’d be fine!
I had a number of children under my care, and one day I was asked to work with a little boy we’ll call Max. Max had gone through three agencies, in our agency I was carer number 7. He was described as challenging and difficult. I decided I’d give Max a go and take him as I found him.
Max was different. Full of life, very quirky, and not prepared to be sat in a corner, for Max, life was for living. He had no fear, and we had adventures! He loved to play games, to read books, to snuggle under a duvet and “talk” although Max had no real words at 7 years of age.
Everything was going fine until one day I was in the front room. There was screaming, tears and tantrums. I was terrified.
Max’s dad came storming in, saying “what has Max done”, he ran in to find me in the corner in tears. Max had his arm around me patting my head. There were four birds of prey circling around my head (ok 4 cockateils sitting on the curtain rail). I do not do inside birds. At all. Ever.
Max had immediately recognised my distress and stayed by my side comforting me until an adult could come and fix the problem.
I wanted to share this story because, like many people, I had a perception that children with autism existed in a bubble, and didn’t really know how to react to emotions and to deal with others in distress. And whilst some children with autism are perhaps more like my stereotype, we need to be very careful with labelling and with our expectations. Each child is an individual, regardless of the label they may have been given.