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….