Thursday 22 March 2012

The Watermelon

I'm back in the school office.

It's early in the morning and from my seat in the waiting area I watch a procession of tiny, scrubbed children pattering past in buttoned-up cardigans and plimsolled toes, a nominee from each class proudly taking the morning register to the school secretary. The air is bright with the start of the day and warm with the scent of baking brownies from the home economics room.

Members of staff pass me and smile warmly. The headmistress sees me and comes over to say hello and twinkle at me. Adversaries no longer, we acknowledge each other in the delighted pleasure of success. She thinks Grace's statement will arrive in a matter of weeks now that we have been given the go-ahead for a statutory assessment. It is a relief to lay down arms.

Grace's teacher comes through the door. It is her day off, and she has come in to talk to me about my daughter's progress because I can't make it to next week's parent's evening. Young, beautiful, her hair and skin gleaming, she is all enthusiasm and smiling cheer. She ushers me into an empty room and produces some of Grace's school books to show me her work.

We discuss the social situation first: Grace's relationships with the girls in her class and her progress in navigating playtime. She is calmer and more controlled. There are flare ups with unkind children -- school will ever be thus -- but to her teacher's and my delight, Grace is holding her own, holding her temper, extracting herself from danger. She has become a good judge of character over the last year's assault course. Now that she can pause and step away from conflict she is able to use that skill to perceive others' motivation and react accordingly. My Asperger's girl is learning.

As her teacher talks to me, she leans towards me and I see her eyes shine. I clutch my handbag tightly and will away the prickle at the back of my own eyes. Grace's teacher tells me how pleased she is that we have secured Grace the support she needs. She tells me how lucky Grace's learning assistant will be to have such a funny and interesting child to work with. She tells me how lovely my daughter is and what a treat it can be to sit beside her and teach her. I swallow hard and I thank her for all her work and her patience. I tell her this has been a journey for all of us and that I as much as anyone else have come a long way in understanding Grace and what she needs.

At the end of our meeting her teacher produces Grace's creative writing folder. She opens the page at the last exercise, when the class was asked to write a poem about a piece of fruit. This is what Grace has written:

The watermelon is a green-bottomed boat filled with red velvet
and tiny black people sinking into it.
The ice-cold taste sends me through happiness
and the sweet scent works me up into joy.
The circling shape is like a football. The smoothness drops me into a dream.

The teacher and I smile at each other. I want to to hug her, but I don't.

Outside, as I walk back to the car, the birds are singing.

Grace Under Pressure: going the distance as an Asperger's Mum, will be published by Piatkus Books in October


  1. This is really, really lovely, Sophie. x

  2. This is lovely. My daughter is nearly 18 and just been diagnosed with Aspergers (High Functioning). We always knew she was different from an early age and other adults loved her as she was such an inquisative child and for her quirkiness. We have had 'hell' at school, mainly secondary school with bullying etc. fitting in and even though teachers were aware that something was not quite right, no one could put their finger on what it was. I wish she had been diagnosed earlier so we could have helped her more and had support in place at school. I feel she has missed out on so much during that time. College has been much better though as she has found 'friends' just like her; she is going to Uni in September who have so much to offer in the way of support for students with Aspergers. It is a shame it has taken so long. Sorry to go on about my own daughter but I feel you will have a better 'ride' with earlier detection; I admire you very much and wish you all the very best.

  3. Jake was very interested in your views on Education , Jake wants to know if you think mainstream education is the best place for people like Sophie and Jake who is 8,
    you can read some of the things Jake does on his Blog,

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