Tuesday, 31 May 2016

"Let's focus on the positives, shall we?"

I'll apologise in advance, this post is likely to be in a similar vein to others I've recently posted. I'm still trying to work through stuff, and writing it down helps.

In all our recent meetings, with CAMHS, with the school SENCO, and with people I talk to who don't really understand autism, I've noticed that when I talk about the things that are worrying me, it makes people uncomfortable. There's a feeling that I shouldn't talk about them, I should only focus on the positives, because we can then build on those.

I agree that it's important that others know PDA boy's talents, and can encourage him through those, but I also think it's very important to know the areas that concern, so that potential spiralling behaviour can be avoided.

PDA boy has many, many strong points:

He is excellent at sports. Loves going to our local Parkrun every Saturday morning with his father and siblings. He is always in the top few for his age group, and improving every week.

He is very musical. If demand avoidance didn't get in the way of practice, I'm sure (in the way all mothers are) that he would be a child prodigy.

He is funny, and makes very clever jokes around words, and uses sarcasm regularly (although he doesn't understand if someone else uses sarcasm).

He is a bushcraft genius, building dens, making fires and cooking on them, using his imagination to problem solve, seeing potential in every stick and chicken-feed bag he can lay his hands on.

He has an amazing vocabulary. It may be largely made up of swear words, and if we introduced a swear jar we could go to Center Parcs every weekend on the proceeds, but nevertheless, it is wide and varied.

He is kind and thoughtful.

He is very knowledgeable about animals, particularly birds of prey and reptiles.

He is the only person in the family that can successfully grow plants - the rest of us don't have the dedication and tend to forget about them!

I highly doubt that many of these talents will be on show in school though, because they come hand in hand with his more volatile side, which in school is kept well under wraps.

But it's not just the talents that are important, the difficulties are just as important, and in a school environment it's these that will hold him back, so in my opinion they are more important to share as they have the potential to see him viewed as naughty, arrogant, rude and manipulative. They have the potential to prevent him from being able to fully access education.

What I would like is the chance to sit down and really tell his future teachers exactly what may be his downfall, but every time I try, I am stopped for two reasons:

1. We must focus on the positives.

2. We know children mask, don't worry, we'll spot it and help him.

This is highly frustrating.

Being autistic myself, when I am at these meetings, I am likely to have rehearsed over and over again what I want to say. If I'm interupted and not allowed to say what I need to, I am more likely to irritate the pants off the people I'm with, as I will start repeating myself and get very flustered and upset, and am less likely to take in what they're saying.

I also find the assumption that these professionals have, that they know the boy better than I do, very cross-making.

For now, I'm going to write a list of the things I'd like them to take note of and share with any teacher likely to have contact with PDA boy.

1. Giddiness/silliness - this means anxiety and/or sensory overload. He needs to have the option to go somewhere quieter. Please don't tell him off for this, as he's not being naughty, and it will only serve to increase the anxiety.

2. Rudeness - sure sign of anxiety. Again, he needs options to leave the room.

3. Refusal to work - yep, anxiety again. If he's refusing, he probably thinks he's going to fail. He either needs some help to make sense of what he's doing, or options so he feels more in control of the situation.

4. The school's consequence system may be his downfall. I'll go into a bit more detail for this one.

The secondary school PDA Boy is going to has a very effective discipline system. Basically, if a child is messing around, they get a C1 (consequence 1). Their name is written on a board. Next comes C2 and 3, giving the child ample warning to sort themselves out before the Big Guns come out.
If the behaviour continues, a C4 means detention. After that a C5 is immediate isolation, followed by a C6, exclusion.
Behaviour in the school is far better than it ever has been, but for some children with special needs, this has meant swift escalation to exclusion. This is my biggest fear at the moment for my son.
If he's feeling anxious, which, let's face it, is likely, he may not respond well to strict zero tolerance discipline. If a teacher can understand this, it will be possible for them to help the boy to stay in control of the situation. If, as we have experienced with most teachers so far (but in a situation of less formal and strict discipline), they decide he is fine, they will see an insolent boy daring to argue with them, for which he must be punished. This is the scenario that must be avoided, but unless someone is prepared to listen, this is something that we will have to be ready for.

Of course the positives are a massive part of my son, and are ones that we focus on a great deal. But in a school setting, by only looking at the positives, my son is far less likely to succeed.

There needs to be a balanced picture in order for him to be understood, and with the need for positivity at all times, this isn't happening.

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