You Should Be Writing This Down, continued

I think I was polite as the disability specialist detailed why my five year old son was under an obligation to act dumb for the benefit of society. Although … who knows exactly what expression my face was wearing.

She went on to explain that school is “for teaching kids to be bored” (this is a quote, not a paraphrase), because “that’s how life is” (that’s a paraphrase). And I think it was at this point that I wondered if I was going to completely lose it – I’d had a massive adrenalin rush hearing all this, and I wasn’t sure quite how my voice was going to come out should I try to speak.

“Right,” I heard myself agree, “especially since we know that high IQ individuals are disproportionately represented in jobs requiring minimal cognitive challenge, let’s just cut to the chase. My boy is too clever to be a brain surgeon! Let’s get him prepped for the kind of job he’s – statistically – more likely to gravitate towards – being a supermarket checkout chick! If we teach him how to be bored effectively enough now then he won’t find scanning grocery items for 8 hours a day quite so tedious when he leaves school. No, seriously, this is what highly gifted people end up doing, and I think it’s really wise to be preparing for this now.”

The school counsellor chimed in, agreeing with me thus: “It’s quite true that highly gifted people do end up in these kinds of jobs that we wouldn’t expect…” and I suddenly realised I wasn’t fighting this battle on my own. The school counsellor had my back. She was on my son’s side. And at thatĀ point IĀ realised I was looking at everyone around the table as either being those who were on my son’s side and those who weren’t.

Those who were proactively on my son’s side were my husband, our son’s classroom teacher and the school counsellor. There were two people in the room without any prior knowledge of his case, and they didn’t say anything, so they were down as neutral. And then there was the specialist.

And the specialist was moving onto her next bullet point: “Look, I can’t believe I’m saying this to you, but we could send him to a school especially for kids with autism where they’ll sit him at a desk and say to him ‘You’re not leaving this table until you’ve done your handwriting’, and they’ll just teach him he has to do what he’s told.”

So, I found myself making a note to myself – if you find yourself saying out loud “I can’t believe I’m saying this” maybe that’s because you really shouldn’t be saying it – while simultaneously wondering what freaking planet this woman had flown in from, and how we could get her back there as quickly as possible.

As she’d been telling me about the opportunity my son had to be subjected to classroom torture the specialist had been pointing her finger onto the table, tapping it down on the table top to emphasise how the teachers at this school would keep my son at his desk til he learned to submit to their meaningless tasks, how his spirit would be broken so he could fit in to the 19th century model of class education the school system still operates within, how his curiosities would be ignored and how his creativity would be denied.

I have absolutely no idea what happened from this point of the meeting onward. Where there should be memory there’s just a blank anger filling all the space. I know that my son’s classroom teacher said things that made optimism course through my veins (this teacher really knows my son and how inappropriate this all is!) and I know that whatever I said was backed up by the school counsellor (unafraid to support my son’s needs despite any professional sense of collegial loyalty!) and that my husband came up with *the* best anecdotal support for whatever I was trying to say (we’re not fighting over the right approach for our son!), and as angry as I was I was also buoyant as we left the school grounds – whatever was coming next it wasn’t just me fighting this fight.

And I absolutely had no idea what was coming next.

To be continued…

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You Should Be Writing This Down

The third of four school terms began here in my part of the world in the middle of July, and it began with rather more of an event than I’d anticipated. The school counsellor sent me an email the day before suggesting I pop in for a bit of a planning session, but by the time I arrived that next, first-day-of-the-term morning the planning session had morphed into a full-blown meeting, with two department of education representatives present, along with my son’s classroom teacher, the relieving acting principal (don’t ask) and the school counsellor. With my husband along as well it made for seven in the room.

The department’s disability specialist ran the show. Which of course meant the experience was vastly different from the quick chat I was expecting to have with the school counsellor.

What happened next has led more than a dozen people to instruct me “You should be writing this down”. Already I’m wondering what I’ve forgotten, what disappeared in the white rage that engulfed me for more than a fortnight after. But I’m completely clear on the bits that people are talking about when they exclaim “You should be writing this down!”, and it went a bit like this….

The disability specialist said things I now don’t remember, mostly things about autism, with ideas for my son that were like a series of activities for a generic checklist of behaviours associated with the autism spectrum. Only my son doesn’t have that generic list of behaviours – he clearly has issues with anxiety and with sensory processing and with interacting with other children appropriately, but no motor clumsiness or weak muscle tone, no issues with language pragmatics, no trouble identifying emotion in others, and so on. So when the specialist mentioned the Transporters app for helping my son recognise basic emotions I had to restrain an eyeroll, and when she talked about my son ‘barking words off a page’ (that’s what’s she said) and needing help with comprehension I couldn’t be bothered being temperate and interrupted her to say “Oh, his comprehension is just fine – I’m not up on current primary school standards, but I’d be confident saying he’s comprehending at an 8 or 9 year old level”.

So maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised some five minutes later. “We all know your son is very bright, but he’s just going to have to learn to dumb himself down for the rest of us,” the specialist explained. This is the point when I could feel rage tear through every part of me – fury at the notion that a five year old would be expected to moderate his capacities for the convenience of a disability specialist from the department of education who hadn’t even done enough research on his needs to be able to offer appropriate suggestions for his development and support; despair that the public education system was equipped neither for my son’s abilities nor for his disabilities; grief at the dumbing-down I had had to do year after year in my own childhood, the pain of cramping my thoughts into little clumps of stupid for the consumption of authority figures, the exhaustion from trying to second guess which thoughts would be seen as appropriate and which would be seen as insolent, the frustration at being expected to ‘show my working’ when there wasn’t any working required for what was to me so obvious an answer, all manner of these personal griefs; and then straight into rage that a woman with the IQ of 115 was trying to tell my five year old son, struggling with aspects of autism, should in addition now have to struggle to work at dumbing himself down.

This woman continued talking – and who knows what she was saying exactly? An ocean of contempt had already filled the gap between our continents.

to be continued….

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