I have been working with children in the early years setting for over fifteen years, and I know so many practitioners who remember that one child, that they worked with, that opened their mind to the world of autism. I had that experience with a boy fourteen years ago, I am going to call him Ryan.
I was not long working in a preschool at the time that this beautiful boy started with us, he stole my heart immediately. He was a beautiful blond boy, who was full of life and full of love. He had so much love to give and always had that look of devilment in his eyes, that I love seeing that look in children. He wanted to explore everything, but not like other kids in the setting, the way he played was different, it was fascinating to watch. He loved tasting everything and he loved examining all the toys, looking and feeling every detail of them.
Not long after he started in the preschool we started to see he was struggling and I could not figure out why. He would get very upset and frustrated and try escape or lash out and as much as I tried I could not figure out what was upsetting him. I just wanted to understand how to help him, he could not communicate his needs very well. When I spoke to mum, she told me that the public health nurse had suggested that he had traits of being autistic and they were going through the assessment at that time.
My training at the time was in Special Needs Assisting and I knew by the textbooks and modules what autism was, but boy was I wrong to underestimate what it could mean and how to support this child in our setting. I am not going to lie, I was a little lost.
We had a visit from his educational psychologist, who was brilliant and took all the time in the world to answer my questions. I asked a lot of questions, I just wanted to know everything I could do to support Ryan and I also found his way of thinking so fascinating. It made sense in my head what his needs where but I needed to know more. I am now thinking because I am neurodiverse (diagnosed with ADHD at a very late age and had no clue back then) maybe was this was why I was so interested.
This is where my journey of working in this area began, I went back to college to study psychology and have been studying ever since, to gain an understanding of how we can support neurodiverse children in a world that is quite simply not built for them.
The world can be a very scary place for an autistic child, especially when they can not express their needs and may not have an understanding of how the environment is too loud or too bright or too busy. This leads to a child becoming overwhelmed and upset but they do not know why. It is our job to start understanding these children and helping support their needs. Then we can teach them that they need a break, that they need some sensory input or they just need a big squeezy hug to help their anxieties.
I will never forget Ryan and his little face looking at me when he could not understand that he was overwhelmed, I wish I knew then what I know now because I was as lost as him. On the other hand if I saw Ryan now, I would give him a huge hug and thank him for letting me into his world and opening my eyes to the amazing world of autism and neurodiversity.