real life

"To the three girls who make my daughter smile, thank you."

Think primary school is just like Mean Girls? This story will make your heart melt.

My daughter Harper had her school concert recently, and I had tears in my eyes the whole time she was on stage. No, she wasn’t the star. She was just there, one of the dancers, in the back row. But there was a time I thought I might never get to see her in a school concert.

From a very young age, Harper seemed different from other children.

She would rather read books than play with kids. She was very sensitive to certain noises. She had to do things her way, and nothing could convince her to change her mind. I kept coming up with excuses for her behaviour, thinking it was all to do with my style of parenting. But at the age of four, she was diagnosed with Asperger’s.

My son has a gift – it’s called Asperger’s.

I’d had so many dreams for her school years. I’d imagined her excelling in her favourite subjects and shining in all sorts of after-school activities.

When she started school, those dreams faded, and I was left with smaller ones.

I just wanted her to get through the day without having a meltdown because someone had put her crayons in the wrong order. I just wanted her to blend in with the other kids.

The smallest thing could send my daughter into a meltdown.

There were a lot of things that made me cry in Harper’s first few years of school. With her first disco, she got as far as the door, heard the loud music, turned around and walked out. With the annual Book Week parade, she stood off to the side and watched the other kids. With school concerts, the teachers suggested that it might be better if she didn’t take part.

My son is not being rude. He's an "Aspie".

I cried for her, for all the things she was missing out on.

But this year things have changed. It’s thanks to time, and it’s also thanks to Harper’s three best friends.

At the school disco, Best Friend Number One took Harper’s hand and promised to share her jewellery if Harper would go inside. With earplugs, she made it through the disco, and loved it.

At the Book Week parade, Harper dressed as Selby the talking dog, and Best Friend Number Two dressed the same. Best Friend Number Two told Harper how great she looked, and encouraged her to sit close by. Harper went in the parade – sprinting instead of walking – but she did it.

ADVERTISEMENT

At the school concert, Harper was anxious beforehand and didn’t want to go backstage, but Best Friend Number Three gave her a hug, offered to carry her bag and told her she had some new games to show her. During the concert, Best Friend Number Two was by Harper’s side, making sure she was getting the moves right and helping her through.

I never expected primary school girls to be so nice. I was expecting that whole Mean Girls thing. I was afraid of Harper being teased and bullied because she was different. I don’t know why these three girls are so lovely to her. Their parents must have done something right.

My daughter's friends are always there with a friendly hug.

How to bully-proof your kids.

These girls don’t know about Harper’s diagnosis (I only tell the adults who look after her, because I don’t want her to be labelled as “that girl with Asperger's” – that’s why I’m posting this anonymously). But they just seem to know that she needs someone to keep an eye out for her. They treat her like a much-loved little sister.

I don’t want people to feel sorry for Harper. She’s years ahead of her age level in some subjects. She’s creative and funny and very affectionate. I love her unique viewpoint on the world and I love just hanging out with her.

I have no doubt that, as an adult, she will find her niche. She will find a job she’s brilliant at and she will have a social life that suits her.

But school is the hardest time in your life to be different. Quirkiness is not always appreciated. You haven’t learnt to shrug off what other people say about you. You can’t walk away from nasty, small-minded people if those people are your classmates. You don’t have the power you have as an adult to change your situation.

I know these friendships might not last. There are a lot of years left to go till Harper finishes school, and teasing and bullying could start at any time. But we can only deal with things as they happen.

Right now I just feel grateful to Harper’s three best friends. Thank you. I hope people are always as kind to you as you have been to my daughter.

Have you been surprised by how nice primary school kids can be?

Want more? Try:

"No 7-year-old boy wants to be different. But mine was..."

"I want my daughter to break up with her best friend."

00:00 / ???