Sweet 16.

I’ve just googled legal age of 16 UK. I’ve done this with good reason. Today is our Sons birthday. He’s 16.

The first list related to crime related issues. Detention times, prosecution, restraining orders and the like. I’ll be honest, this isn’t the first thing that springs to mind for me when thinking of 16 year olds, but hey…

The second block related to sexual activity and relationships. The ability to get married, be responsible for children rent property and claim benefits.

The third section mentioned medical care, and the forth mentioned studying, and the legal age for finishing school. Following on from that was discussion of alcohol, driving and leisure activities.

All of this isn’t really applicable though to our oldest son. He’s sixteen, but he’s also Autistic. He’s not “memorise the phonebook and win in the casinos” autistic, nor is he “a little social awkward but functions ok” autistic. He struggles to communicate his needs. He’s not really overly aware of his needs outside of the need to own every computer game for every console, and to make video clips playing them that he can re-watch later. He attends school every day, where they’re teaching life skills, rather than GCSE’s.

I’m not sure how he’d cope with a GCSE. I think he’d possible manage one, if tutored in the right way. But I’m not sure that the education system is set up in the right way to manage that.

Looking back to the list of things you can do at 16. I know that he would never commit a crime. He’s not interested  in others enough to form a relationship, and in no way could he live alone. He just wouldn’t cope. He has a dislike of going to the doctors and an intense fear of injections. Studying for him is something he does in between being able to play games. His spacial awareness when walking is pretty bad. We hold his hand to cross the road to stop him walking in front of cars, so driving? Might not be the best idea.

But. This isn’t a complaining post. I’ve been thinking about people turning sixteen for a week or two, and what it means to each person. For me, turning sixteen meant I could get a saturday job, and earn a bit more money. It mean I’d be finishing school that year, and going onto college (Spoiler, I did awfully). It meant that although, technically, I could ride a moped, I knew I’d be waiting till 17 and riding a motor bike instead. People asked me on the day “hows it feel to be sixteen?” “Same as it felt yesterday, theres no magical portal available now!”.

Being a parent to a child with Autism is tough, but its also rewarding in different ways. You may not see them asking to head out with a group of friends to the park, or asking if they can have sleep overs. (though, Autism is a spectrum, so you might get this anyway!) You may have to carry them, as younger children past the shops they desperately want to go into, just in case a new game has been released in the hour since you last passed the shop. But there are at least as many good moments as bad, and they’re just different moments to the one you’d expect. The first in-depth conversation about the complete history of the Power Rangers, incorporating every incarnation of power rangers to date. The first time you catch a glimpse of the computer screen they’re working on, and see the animated movie they’ve made, without them realising you’ve seen it and closing it down. The first time they come downstairs hungry, whilst you’re engaged in work, and make themselves food without asking, and it actually be well made and relatively healthy!

When I was first learning about Autism, I was showing a story called ‘Welcome to Holland’. I’ve re-read it several times since, and its incredible every time.

I’m going to post it below, and end there, while the happiness of memories eat into my work time 🙂


I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.

c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved


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