Terri is a primary school classroom assistant in South Wales and has been for the past 12 years. She lives with her husband and two children, Sophie aged 10 and James aged 6. In 2016 Terri’s daughter Sophie was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.
Terri is passionate about research, she not only values its importance but over the years has taken the opportunity for her and Sophie to be involved, with the consideration that “five minutes out of my time could change someone’s life in the future.”
When chatting with Terri she said, “People assume that once you have a diagnosis you’re all sorted and you have all the help you need. But that’s just not true! They say being autistic is a spectrum of needs, but often people make the same assumptions about everyone with autism - yet everyone I’ve met with a diagnosis has been different.”
School has proven to be challenging for Sophie explains Terri, and it is not her favourite place to be. Through a sensory session Terri learnt about some new strategies to support Sophie with being able to cope at school. She has a little box of sensory toys which she can access whenever she needs. Her teacher and school are supportive of this and understand the importance of giving the space for Sophie to have a five minute break away from the activities in the classroom, which can “be the difference between a good day and a bad one.”
Terri goes on to explain the importance of flexibility when it comes to provision for children with autism in schools, “one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to autism education.” Terri stresses the importance of more tailored support, creating an environment that has consistency with approaches to behaviour, rules and a child’s expectations and how in fact the coronavirus pandemic created a simpler and less demanding life for Sophie. Whilst in lockdown and being home schooled, she had the freedom to go at her own pace, have regular breaks, and like many other families, found the time to focus on “wellbeing and happiness.”
Feeling apprehensive about Sophie’s return to school, mum Terri has been amazed at how well she started the new term. With more confidence and a willingness to take part in activities she usually wouldn’t, the extended break seemed to have given Sophie the time to reduce her anxieties. “She’s not ‘cured’, the anxiety is still there, she still gets upset. But having a positive start gave her time to settle back into school life. It makes me wonder if some pupils need longer breaks.”
Terri has confidence that society and people’s view around autism are changing for the better. She said: “Some people are afraid of the label and the stigma, but for us, being able to explain to Sophie that it’s okay to feel the way she does, or that her response to something is normal for someone with autism was a massive boost in confidence for her! Suddenly she had an answer to why she wasn’t like everyone else.”
We asked Terri if she had any advice for other parents with autistic children. Terri is hugely knowledgeable about autism and the education system and it is clear she could share a wealth of advice and guidance; a running theme was the encouragement to be open and honest with teachers, not being afraid to ask for help and remembering that your child is a different person at home to what they are at school. Most poignant of all was not assuming, “that your child can’t do something just because they have autism. These kids are amazing and can do anything they choose to. To get through each day with the social, emotional and communication issues they deal with plus the high levels of anxiety they experience - they truly are superheroes!”