Reaching for the Stars

Since J was a baby, he loved music. All of his favourite toys, except the trains were musical. We went to singing group, when the girls were born, his favourite song was an Oasis track, known as helicopter music, due to the helicopters in the video. His first album at the age of five was SClub7 and his favourite track was Reach for the Stars which we danced to, in the kitchen, over and over again.

I think of this while driving to work and listening to Saturday Live on Radio 4. A mother is introduced as a guest and in the opening sentences, the presenter describes how her sone showed early genius and a love of order. I know what is coming, he has Aspergers and at the age of three his parents were told he would never speak to them again due to the severity of his autism and advised to make long term plans for his care. Intensive therapy followed and eventually, the mother, exhausted by sixty hours of therapy each week decided to take matters into her own hands. On a star filled night, she danced in the garden while her son watched the stars which so fascinated him, and they listened to the music of Louis Armstrong. She decided to only focus on the things he loved, to home school him and let him immerse himself in his passions, in the interests which awoke a spark within him. He was with her on the programme, talking about his study of quantum physics, at masters level, aged 14 and of the pay cheques he earned tutoring.

When the world tells you to give up on any normal life for your child, it is a painful loss. It is a s if you are standing outside a club to which your child will never be allowed entry and you have to see the pain they feel at their exclusion. It is a lifetime ahead of never going to the ball, of being an outsider, because someone, somewhere decided what is normal without even asking you. We planned for J to be a train driver, but I still worried if he would need GCSEs. The odds always were stacked against him. When his school decided not to offer music at GCSE it was such a cruel blow, but he decided to study for it himself. No allowances were made in his timetable and he headed slowly towards exam failure.

Until a specialist music school found him and saved him. To hand your autistic son over to a boarding school, when you know he lacks any organisation skills or essential life skills is terrifying. The only way we could do it was because it was the first time others saw in him what we did. Last night, in his final year, he gave his first concerto performance. I didn’t even know what a concerto was – but it is a piece of music featuring a soloist. C and I, along with the girls are attending. We aren’t late, but we are amongst the last to arrive. As I collect our tickets, the man in front is told he has been allocated a seat in the VIP area. He is J’s future teacher at music college and the Head of Woodwind there. We sit at the back. I see J’s father and uncle, with some friends near the front. I catch their reproachful eye and think, “Well if we didn’t need to ensure L and K eat first, we could probably be early too”. J comes over and hugs us. I am already nearly in tears. In the programme is a biography of the soloist, my son. As the orchestra tune up, there is a pause and then applause, as J walks on. L and I look terrified and nearly break Ks fingers as we hold her hand. She giggles at our idiocy. J plays, and of course, he is brilliant. At least I think he is. Because while I can see and hear that it looks incredibly difficult and sounds amazing, I don’t really know. What I am here for is the look on his face, to see a young man who is in the place he should be, doing the thing he loves most and being celebrated for his talent and valued for who he is. Applause follows (although as usual we all look at each other between movements wondering if this is when we clap) and J comes on twice to receive more applause.

Afterwards, we sneak into the VIP area to see him. As usual there are more eminent people to talk to him first, to shake his hand and clap his back. But then he sees us and strides over and hugs us all. We chat, I check he is pleased and happy. And then I let him go. Back to the celebrated musicians and teachers, to his musical colleagues. I watch his father hovering ever close, chatting to everyone as though he knows them really well. And I realise that part of letting your child find the things they love means watching from a distance and letting go. I mentally will his father to do the same. I take a picture and put it on Facebook. I buy J a new dress shirt, realising that the white shirt he was wearing was a school shirt. I answer his text asking me to find him a large black shirt and to sew big grey buttons on it for an experimental piece he is playing. I know that he will always want to come home and eat Toad in the Hole, laugh at his favourite comedy show and look in the fridge to find cider. But he is moving further away to the life he wants and deserves and I am happy for him.

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