Starting School and How I’m Really Really Not Ok

It’s a mixture of anger and fear. That’s some of what I feel regarding the Boy’s first year of school. While I’m sure that other Mama’s feel anxious and worried about their kid starting school too, I can relate somewhat to their concerns but I feel particularly alone in mine.

Lets compare.

“I am concerned about my child being sad and missing me.” Vs “There is a real possibility that my child will be taught that there is something systematically wrong with them.”

WebMD states that ‘Children with autism have trouble communicating.’ It goes on to clarify this as Autistic children cannot always understand what other people think and feel, and cannot express themselves (Autism, 2015). This is a lot of cant’s for a child to go up against. Particularly when the Autistic Community have proclaimed again and again that they ARE communicating, just differently. How would you feel if your method of communication was either ignored entirely (in favour of ‘does not communicate’) or discounted as not good enough. Research has shown repeatedly that what Teacher’s believe regarding their students is often what actually occurs – a self fulfilling prophecy (Jussim, Eccles & Madon, 1996). If a teacher believed that my Kid couldn’t communicate, that he doesn’t have the capacity for empathy and that he couldn’t express himself – how much effort would they put in for him? What would their daily conversations with him look like? Would they only talk to him to tell him what he was doing wrong? Other kids are taking homework home, what’s mine going to be taking?

The Autistic Family Collective has found that more than 44% of Bullying cases were started by Teachers (Toscano & Donnelly, 2015). Given the current deficits based definition of Autism I’m not surprised. When you put any child in an untenable situation they will react in untenable ways. Unfortunately when an Autistic child reacts the goal is often to vilify them rather than understand.

“I hope my child does well.” Vs “I hope no-one locks my child in a cage ‘for their own safety.”

Recently, there have been many horrendous examples of supposed Behaviour Management for Autistic children and adults. Highlights include a cage (Scarr & Van Den Broeke, 2015) and a coffin-like box (Toscano & Donnelly, 2015). If a child (my child, potentially) has reached the point where they pose a danger, than that is not their fuck up, that is YOURS. And if the Teacher in the classroom chooses to highlight this fuck-up by removing a child to a cage who is clearly and obviously in distress rather than oh, moving the rest of the class, sitting quietly beside the child while an EA looks after the other children, calling the Principal or basically any other person at the school who can legally be in the classroom; then the main thing they are teaching children is that

  1. People in distress are not really people and therefore don’t even deserve basic respect
  2. You can treat people like shit when you’re in the majority
  3. You can treat people like shit and you don’t even have to acknowledge that it is shit if that person has a disability, compassion is reserved for when people are ‘normal.’
  4. If you frame it as ‘but they needed some chill-out time’ then you get to ignore the fact that you probably dragged a kicking and screaming child to a box.

Do we believe for one second that these Autistic children and adults walked calmly to these cages? No. They didn’t.

“I am socially awkward around other parents.” Vs “How the fuck can I tell who will secretly be keeping a list of all the ‘bad’ things my kid does and who will then tell their child they can’t play with my child, whom amongst other parents is TRUSTWORTHY?”

I hear this so often. The loneliness that often comes with being the Parent of That Kid. The lack of birthday invitations. The lack of play dates. The wanting to explain your child to people that really, you don’t owe a goddamn thing.

My fear is that I am required to make my Boy more palatable to the world, when what I want to do is make the World more palatable to my Boy. That support is not support. That I am failing him in ways I don’t even know yet, because the world is ableist and I am a product of this. That in meetings with Well Meaning Educators he will be reduced to a set of attributes and strategies, and I will fucking assist them in this because it is the best we have.

That’s what I’m scared of. That’s what I’m angry about. This Boy, who has my heart in the palm of this hand and who loves me with such wild abandon – I could break him. I could send him off in a uniform and into a system that will break him. And I wouldn’t even know, not straight away. I’d just watch him slowly fade, as the bits of himself that are so fantastic, that give him so much joy – as he is taught that those bits aren’t useful, or worse still, aren’t wanted.

And yet. And yet, and yet, and yet.

I want the world to have him. I want his world to be Big, and beautiful and magical because he is all of those things. I look at my Boy as he navigates through the world – his world too (HIS world too!) and he looks so right. He drinks it in. I want the world to see this Boy clearly, filled with potential and love and perfection.

And so, as we have done so many times before, this Boy and I; we will hold each other’s hands and we will take a deep breath and together, together we will walk into the world and we will pioneer the fuck out of it. Because we know that sometimes, that’s what it takes.

Autism, (2015) WebMD. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/understanding-autism-       basics

Autistic Family Collective. (2015, December 17). Abuse by Teachers Widespread.Media Releases. Retrieved from http://autisticfamilycollective.org.au/2015/12/15/abuse-by-teachers-widespread-autistic-family-collective-report/

Jussim, L., Eccles, J., & Madon, S. (1996). Social perception, social stereotypes, and teacher expectations: Accuracy and the quest for the powerful self-fulfilling prophecy. Advances in experimental social psychology, 28, 281-388.

Scarr, L. & Van Den Broeke, L. (2015, April 2). Canberra principal suspended after cage built for Autistic student. The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/canberra-principal-suspended-after-cage-built-for-autistic-student/story-fni0cx4q-1227289436987

Toscano, N & Donnely,B. (2015, December 19). Leading autism service to be investigated over restraint policy. The Age. Retrieved from http://www.theage.com.au/national/leading-autism-service-to-be-investigated-over-restraint-policy-20151218-glqo7g.html?utm_campaign=echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Twitter#link_time=1450509665