Alone at the School Gates

School gates

I remember my first day of school like it was yesterday. My lovely daddy drove me to school that day in a little navy van. Sitting up the front beside him we arrived at the school gates where my teacher Mrs. Martin met me with a big reassuring smile. I however was undeterred  on my plan to hold on tight to my dad’s leg, forcing him to obviously bring me home with him.  I remember hugging my dad so tight never wanting to let him go. Mrs. Martin eventually wrenched me off his leg, enveloping me in a warm hug and carried me off to my first day of school. Every day after that first day I was excited to go to school, to learn all the magic that was held in it’s books, I fell deeply in love with school & learning from that day on, the love of learning has stayed with me ever since.

First Day Feelings.

When I had my own lovely children I imagined dropping them off to school, passing on my love of learning to them, teaching them in the evening. I was really looking forward to the dropping off/picking up, kissing & hugging them into oblivion. I was equally looking forward to each of their first days at school, the part you always see in the movies where the moms wait at the school gates chatting, exchanging knowing glances of nerves & excitement, wondering how their Little Puddins coped on their first day of school. I was so so lucky I got to experience that fleeting feeling of excitement when Hailey started school as I didn’t realize then that it would be the only time I would get to experience a “first day” like that.


I naively thought I would get to recapture that “first day” feeling when Conor would start school. Conor started school in an Autism Unit (attached to a primary school) which teaches the same curriculum as a regular national school, but teaches it in a way he can learn. I remember his first day as vividly as I remember my own.

All the new junior infant pupils spilled in the school gates with their emotional mammies and daddies dropping them off, kissing, hugging cheering them off to the first day of the rest of their lives. I remember walking by them with Conor as they walked into the Junior Infants classroom inside the main school door. I felt so happy for them because I had that same feeling as a child starting school and again when Hailey started school.


Yet at the same time, I felt like crying that morning walking Conor to his class, the tears stung at my eyes as I tried to hold them back. I was proud of Conor being able to go to a school almost 40 minutes away from his home in a completely different town, I was proud he was even able to attend, cope without us. That glue that usually keeps me together in tough situations I face as a Special Needs mammy had seemingly dried up that morning when I needed it. The lump in my throat, tears in my eyes were coming because it was right then when I passed by all the little happy children that it hit me hard that Conor “should” be joining them, but would not be.

When I dropped Conor off to his room we were met by two lovely SNAs and Conor’s beautiful & kind teacher. I have to say they are such lovely people & have helped Conor progress so much since he started there. I met some other Autism Mammies that morning and they too had the same pained look in their eyes as I.



On leaving Conor happily playing I walked back towards the exit and met the gaze of a  group of parents chatting happily at the gates, asking each other about their little ones who had just started. I felt so out of place as I had nothing in common with these lovely ladies despite us all having children starting school the same day, who were the same age. I wished as I passed them chatting that I could be invisible because I was afraid the pain in my heart would show on my face.

It is a hard feeling to admit, but just then I wished to God Conor was just like all the other little boys & girls starting Junior Infants that day, that he would be excited about starting school or at-least understand he was starting school.

I feel so guilty for wishing that; as I know Conor is happy at his unit; he makes progress everyday and makes me so proud with all he has and will achieve. He is just as he is supposed to be, perfect in his own way.

Autism Class room

Silly as it sounds now looking back; I braced myself for the drop offs and pick ups over the next few days. Every day was the same all the mammies chatted to each other as I stood alone to the side waiting to go in to pick up Conor. The other mothers were so kind, in the beginning one or two would ask which child was mine (in the Junior Infants class) and I would say Conor was in the Autism unit, an awkward silence would fall and I would wish I were invisible again.

Eventually my wish came true, when the other parents would chat it was easier for them to ignore me then try to have awkward conversations with me. As time went on Conor started to take the Special Needs bus to & from school as it would help him to become more independent. I was relieved he enjoyed the travelling on the bus, at the same time I was thankful as it also meant I wouldn’t be lonely at the gates anymore.

I will never forget any of my little one’s first days of school as it is one of their first major steps towards an independent life. I am blessed I was able to experience Hailey’s first day at a regular school and Conor’s at a special needs unit. I always think that the tough experiences we go through in life are there to teach us a lesson.


This year I will be dropping Conor off for his first few days back at school until he settles in. I won’t ever forget the pain I felt on those first days when he walked past the Junior Infants classroom, leaving behind the world that could’ve been, it will always stay with me. This year however I will look out for any new special needs parent at the school, as I know what it is to feel vulnerable & overwhelmed on your child’s first day of school whether they have special needs or not.

Over the years and especially this last year my resolve has returned, my inner courage replenished, my outlook  positive. Its with this courage you will find me at the school gates waiting to pick up my gorgeous Conor, there’l be no tears this year, no lump in my throat. I have a hero who wears an invisible cape, he has shown me to have courage  and to be brave. He will greet me everyday after his school day with one of his mesmerizing smiles, take my hand and lead me home.

Autism Courage



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