As we approach the last couple of weeks of my son’s first school year, I thought I’d reflect on how it’s gone. We’ll be doing this formally next week, in his annual review. Hot on the heels of the previous week’s ‘toilet’ meeting (see The Battle of Water/Loo) we’ll once again be squeezing into the Head’s office, along with the Senco, class teacher, Speech and Language Therapist, Autism Outreach, Parent Partnership and Occupational Therapist. Add my wife and I and that makes nine adults in a tiny room. He’s only got five chairs. Perhaps we could sit on each other’s laps, according to our allegiances. Obviously my wife would sit on my lap, OT and SALT I think would make a nice pair. The Head could cosy up with the class teacher and I’m sure AO and PP would get along fine. The Senco would have to sit on her own though. She’s quite scary.
Despite this opportunity to review B’s progress, and look ahead, I thought I’d do some reflection of my own. I’m not sure whether I’m reviewing my son’s progress, the school, his support network or myself, but here goes.
The most obvious starting point is to ask the question, ‘Was mainstream the right choice?’ Strictly speaking, we didn’t have a choice, as B’s statement came a little too late in the process to change his starting point for September. Nonetheless, we could have, at any point, raised the issue of a move to a special school if we’d felt it necessary. On balance, I would say that sending him to mainstream school was the right choice. When my wife reads this, I know she will feel less certain. Academically, B is very able, given the right circumstances and opportunities. Just as you can’t train a fish to climb a tree, there are certain aspects of the curriculum and school life that B is not cut out for. Put him in the right conditions though, and he won’t just stay afloat, he’ll excel (ironically, he can’t swim a stroke, but you get the idea).
The trouble is, all too often B has been swimming against the tide at mainstream school. I doubt that a special school would be the right place for him, but equally he is an awkward fit into the mainstream classroom. Never is this more apparent than when we attend class assemblies or other similar events. The school’s policy is to invite parents to rewards assemblies and your child’s class assembly, which occur with alarming regularity. These are a tense experience for us as parents. Usually my wife tackles them on her own, but I’ve managed to make one or two (usually more as moral support for my wife than anything else). Out trot the Reception class onto the stage, followed by (always last) our son, with his T.A. glued to his side. It’s immediately apparent who “the boy who needs help” is. There then follows a very tense twenty minutes or so as we pray that B will make it to the end. Usually, he does not. It might be the song he doesn’t like, the audience, or any number of triggers, but often he has to be taken out. Up stands his T.A., who escorts him kicking, screaming and shouting in front of everyone, back to his class or wherever it is that they take him to calm down. Look everyone! That’s my child who can’t cope with sitting for twenty minutes in a hall full of his peers!
You’ll understand why we were dreading Sport’s Day. I still shudder at the very thought, even though I wasn’t there. When I did attend a couple of years ago, for my oldest son, I was struck by the intense competitive nature of the parents, zealously egging on their children to win. They’re just reception class for fuck’s sake, I thought, until I realised I was doing exactly the same when it was my son’s turn (for the record, my oldest son has an unbeaten record of three winning year’s in a row). B though, is a different matter. How would he cope, in front of everyone, in a competitive race? Would he even make it to the end? Would his T.A. run alongside him? Would the assembled crowd of parents laugh or, even worse, let out a collect ‘ahhhh’ of sympathy that would cut right through my wife? Should he even be doing Sport’s Day? As is often the case, these dreads and fears were all about us as parents, and nothing to do with my son, who was perfectly happy.
By my wife’s account, it wasn’t too bad, although I think she sugared the pill for me somewhat. When it was B’s turn to race, his T.A. sat alongside him on the starting line, insistently drilling into him the instruction to, “Run to the end. Don’t stop. Don’t wave to Mummy. Keep going.” Well, he certainly did what he was told. Bless my little boy- he ran all the way to the end. His awkward gait meant he was never going to win and predictably he was last, but he did it nonetheless. The trouble is, no one had thought to tell him what to do when he got to the end. Can you guess what happened? My boy kept running, shouting out “I did it!” as he completed another lap before running into the arms of his mum for a very public celebration of his achievement. It was a real Forrest Gump moment, but one we’re very proud of. B was able to ‘compete’ in Sport’s Day, albeit with his own unique twist. Still, we’re very proud of his achievement, even if it means more to us than it does to him.
If Sport’s Day was a (relative) high, there have been more than enough lows. As we reach the end of the year, there seems to have been an escalation in difficult and challenging behaviour by B. My wife said last week that every single day brought with it a new issue, and she was not exaggerating. In an amazing run of disruptiveness, he managed to strip off in the playground, smacked his T.A. (again. The woman deserves a medal), thumped a crying child, ate the sand-pit (or as much as he could manage to get in his mouth over the period of a week) and generally had an escalation in his unwillingness to participate and do what’s expected of him. Oh, and he pulled down the dinner lady’s top and tried to blow a raspberry on her chest. He has an uncanny knack of doing this just ahead of review meetings!
No wonder that, in B’s home/school book the teacher is writing such comments as, “very stroppy and defiant”, “struggled to follow routines and rules” and “major tantrum today.”
And yet, for all these setbacks, I think the forthcoming meeting will be full of positives. No one is going to pretend it hasn’t been a difficult year. There will certainly be plenty of concerns to discuss. But my review of his first year in mainstream school would be have to conclude that on balance, there have been more highs than lows. No, really!
Join me next week, when I’ll be sharing some of those highs.