This morning I was guilt ridden at realising that today is J’s AS level results day. The focus on L has been so intense, I could have easily forgotten birthdays of every member of the family.
Exams are tense times with J. When he was in Year 6, we were told that the impact of Aspergers Syndrome meant he would probably never pass an exam. This was said in a casual way, ignoring that in one sentence a child’s entire school life was being trashed. From that point on our expectations were lowered, if he survived secondary school without being bullied, if he could find a way into train driving, one of his obsessions, he might be ok.
Then at secondary school, he picked up a clarinet and life changed. It turned out that he had an astonishing musical talent. So astonishing that he taught himself how to play a Mozart piano concerto without ever having had a single lesson. He discovered a bassoon in someone’s attic and taught himself to play. Other children laughed and mocked him, discovering classical music at age 12 isn’t the best way of making friends. But in time they realised he didn’t care, because he had found something that altered his universe and being a bit odd more than made up for that discovery.
At 15, halfway through Y10, he was headhunted by a specialist music school and offered a scholarship place. I was delighted and horrified at the same time. My father had died a couple of months before and I missed him so much; to lose my son to a boarding school seemed a fresh loss. On the other hand, he got to leave a school where he couldn’t even do Music GCSE, to a world renowned school where his talent would be recognised. So off he went to a strange world, to a private education, to which I have always been opposed.
It was hard. What helped was my ambivalence. When other students were vile to him, when the school sent him home because he couldn’t sleep at night and roamed the corridors, I told them either they dealt with his Aspergers or he would leave. Clearly they were used to scholarship parents being pathetically grateful for every crumb. When a student with a comically posh name threatened him with a knife, they felt my full wrath and action was taken. I attended concerts surrounded by the wealthy and privileged and watched them gasp at my son’s talent. Bit by bit he found his place, and most importantly of all, discovered who he wanted to be and that the greatest lesson we ever learn while young is how to be ourselves and to be content with that.
And a year ago he passed six GCSEs, two at Grade A. I doubt many other mothers wept as much as I did. Today he got B,C and D at AS Level for Music, Music Tech and French. Behind the grades are scores of 120/120 for Music Performance and A for spoken French. This year he formed a band and won the school Battle of the Bands contest, singing French Progressive Rock music, while a rapt audience chanted his name.
Inside all of us is the essence of who we are. And outside, countless forces of peer pressure, the media, stereotypes, bigotry and a million -isms pressure our young people to deny being the people they are. Those with Aspergers find those forces incomprehensible; J has given me a great gift – to see the world as he does, without all those filters and to challenge their influence at every turn. It is not Aspergers that is his disadvantage, but a neurotypical world that fails to see its own idiocy.
So to exorcise the guilt, well done J. You are an inspiration to me and I love how you throw the gauntlet down to the world. Keep doing it. I am very proud of you.