Forgive me the terrible pun in the title, but my energies this week have gone into preparing for battle. Tomorrow we meet with the school. Again.
Heading the charge will be my wife and I; foot soldiers armed with our usual arsenal of questions and points, ready to bombard our way through the meeting. We’ll be backed up by a regiment of health and education professionals- the cavalry when we’re floundering. And there, across the battlefield that is the Head’s desk will sit our adversaries. The headteacher will be flanked by his legion of uncompromising, invincible warriors. Well, the SENCO anyway.
But before I get too carried away with the war metaphors, a disclaimer: School have been good in many, many ways. Despite early misgivings, his T.A. has been outstanding- a real treasure. His class teacher has also been superb. We discussed last night what to buy them as an end of year thank you present but couldn’t think of a way of expressing our gratitude enough. Together with a number of other members of staff that work with B, they have been hard-working, patient, persistent, willing to learn and adapt and, above all else, caring. We’ve been lucky.
So why the fighting talk? Well, mostly it comes down to the same old demon that haunts us day in and day out- toilet training. Yes, we’ve made progress and yes, it’s not something that will be overcome quickly. I understand this. But still, I feel that progress might have been better had the school been more on side with us, knew more about autism and were more willing to be flexible. We’ve made progress at home, and there have been times when we felt we were on the verge of a breakthrough. Half term was really successful: we had him out of nappies, using the toilet, and dry all day. He still soiled, but mostly at bedtime once he’d been put back in a nappy. It felt like progress, like my wife’s endless hard work and patience was paying off (she really deserves the credit here). Things were looking good. And then what happened? He went back to school.
School will not accept him in pants. Or not all day, anyway. They have compromised to the point where he is allowed to wear pants for a period in the morning, then he’s back into nappies. In pants, he is unhappy and unwilling to have accidents, but in nappies? Who cares? He can’t feel it, it doesn’t bother him, and it saves him being dragged off to the toilet. Of course he’s not going to stay clean. Worse still, they’ve invented a ridiculous system whereby if he stays dry and clean in pants for three hours each day, for three days in a row, they will extend his pant time by fifteen minutes. Have you ever heard such a load of bollocks? My son is not a robot who can be programmed with such mechanical precision as this. I have no idea what educational or medical thinking underpins this ‘strategy’. A cynic might say it was done just to placate his persistent parents.
You don’t need to know much about autism to know that my boy needs consistency and a clear message about his toileting. This ridiculous arrangement of half in and half out of pants is a confused and confusing message. It is a step back, rather than forward.
We’ve let some battles go, in the understanding that you can’t win ‘em all. B won’t drink water, and school have a strict water-only policy. As a result he does not get a full bladder- the very thing needed for developing bladder control and an ability to go to the toilet when it is really needed, rather than the ‘little but often’ habit that has blighted B’s progress so far. School could not see this and banned other liquids from being sent in. It’s water or nothing, expect at designated juice times. I’m shaking my head as I write this. What the fuck are they playing at?
I’m angry. Can you tell?
But before I go marching in, with all guns blazing, I must pause and take stock. Ultimately we all want the best for my son, and an antagonistic stance is perhaps unwise. I need to put my emotions aside and remain cool, calm and professional. More importantly, I must not use school as a target for my own anger which, if I’m honest, goes beyond any issues with the school.
I often find myself feeling angry. Tonight, my wife is in tears after a particularly horrific day at school for B. I’ve tried to help her feel better, but it’s so frustrating. This woman should not dread picking her son up from school, for fear of what she will be told. I should be able to fix things, make them better. But two years down the line I’m still no closer to being able to do this, and that makes me angry. Most of this anger stays away from the pages of this blog, but it’s there. Perhaps it’s a man thing, but too often I let the frustrations and the failures and the difficulties and the setbacks get to me. Rather than talking it through, these things get internalised and a brooding sense of anger and injustice eats away at me. I’m not angry at the school, or the health professionals or my wife or anyone really. Certainly not my son. Maybe myself a little. I’d like to think I don’t let my anger show and that I don’t take it out on those close to me. Perhaps I do. There’s a very real possibility that I am using this meeting as a focal point for the incessant, angry feeling that sometimes gnaws away at me.
There’s a William Blake poem that I love called, ‘The Poison Tree’. It says, “I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow.” The school are not my foe, and should not be the target or outlet for my own feelings of frustration and anger. The real foe is my habit of internalising these negative feelings and letting them get to me.
Perhaps the real battle is with myself, not the school.