Friday, 11 May 2018

And so it begins...

So next Monday is D Day for son #2. Or rather, GCSE day. The first day of his GCSE exams which continue for the next calendar month. But not so very long ago, I didn't believe we would get to this point. That this would not be his future, and we needed to consider "alternative options" as advised by so many professionals. But our son is testament to the fact that you can never - and should never let a diagnosis, multiple diagnoses, a previous reality and complex difficulties define you. As a mother, I have learned more from my second son than my other three children combined. I've learned patience (!), resilience, that a glass of wine on Friday night can solve a multitude of problems... but most of all I've learned to believe in my kids. I have faith; faith that you can only do so much, and that actually - it really will be OK.

To give you an idea of the significance of Monday, here is a reminder of where we've come from...

Never one to subscribe to a predicted trajectory, our ever-so-unique, exquisitely frustrating and unbelievably resilient young man has outdone every single prediction of progress. And some. I only hope his primary school teachers get to read this.

H was non-verbal until school age, he was asked to leave his private nursery, "expelled" from Tumble Tots (quite an achievement I'm told!!) and a total, complete and utter full-time liability. Blessed with a determination which does him credit, he started Reception at a new school and spent the first term under a table throwing books at the teacher's legs. But his meltdowns were extreme and so the Head tried a pop-up tent in her office for him to calm down in, since he absolutely couldn't cope with the sensory overload in the classroom. The tent didn't work, and he kicked her shins twice so a space behind a couple of bookcases was made where he could be 'safely" barricaded in.

His coats were always fluorescent yellow or orange - easy to spot on the large school field so lunchtime supervisors could keep track of him. Or he could be spotted as he "did a runner" and headed for the road. He could find his jumper in the "jumper box" by smell alone (out of 30+) and would put his lunch in his hair rather than eat it. He started mark making but would not comply with any school work, and appeared to learn nothing but a few words.

Year 1 wasn't much better, with 46 fixed term exclusions before he turned six. Desperate, and knowing there was a bright child locked inside this whirling dervish I appealed for help. However I was told we would "never get a Statement", because he was too bright, and too young. My response was much like my son's...

"Just watch me."

I used every trick in the book, researched and wrote letters and never gave up. Sure enough, he got his Statement, and not only just a Statement but a full time, 30+ hour one. Things were looking up. But shortly after his school reality went from bad to worse as he just couldn't cope with the requirements in school and he was placed on a part-time timetable. At this time we were told he was a risk to himself and others, that a risk assessment had been carried out and an "escape plan" drafted to "rescue" the other children when he kicked off.

I think part of me died that day.

But you carry on, find your proverbial Wonder Woman pants and get on with it, don't you?

So we had an emergency meeting with the Council SEN Officer, who explained to the Headteacher that she had to exclude him permanently so alternative provision could be found. But the Headteacher in question broke down in tears and said she had never permanently excluded any pupil and couldn't do it now.

How selfish - or so I thought. But I must confess my view has altered in recent years, and I've amended my interpretation of this conversation. Miss D - if you are reading this, thank you. Thank you for being as bloody stubborn as H and I and for refusing to give in. Thank you for giving him the chance he needed.

Soon after we decided to move, to a town with a large primary school used to dealing with complex needs, where H wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb, and would have the chance of mainstream provision. It was a rocky start, but with the most wonderful Teaching Assistant he thrived. Mrs C, if you are reading this, I cannot put into works the gratitude I have for you, for not only believing in H, but for supporting him, understanding him, fighting his corner and just being amazing.  I hope you know the young man H has become. I am so glad I refused the advice to look for a Special School from 11 and that you supported me in this; he has flourished in the mainstream State system.

Going up to High School, H had a poor set of SATS results but had started to engage. He was reading prolifically - voraciously even, and had turned a corner. No homework was done for the next 4 years - and precious little over the past year either, but he had a reading age of 20+ when aged 12, an impressive general knowledge and a vocabulary that outdid his older brother. Not bad for a previously non-verbal child!

In fact, he hasn't looked back. but that doesn't mean to say it's been plain sailing. Still volatile and emotionally all over the place he's a daily challenge. And he's done absolutely NO revision. not a jot. No homework since Christmas and he's so "bored" of GCSEs that most days he's late, and sometimes just plain refuses to go in. He might not even make all his exams, but do you know what?

He has nothing to prove.

He's read the reading list for A Level Ancient History already. He has a phenomenal grasp of Philosophy, advanced Chemistry, computing and Linux systems, Politics, Engineering, Literature... the list is endless and his biggest problem is narrowing down subjects for A level study. He enjoys dystopian novels, discussing current affairs and gives me the run around in every discussion we have. He cannot read a note of music but has taught himself to play all the Etudes and Metamorphosis series by Phillip Glass.

And I mean *really* play. 

Click photo for link

He's set up a company with two friends to launch amateur satellites into lower space and is working for his HAM radio license. He wants to learn the guitar - and he will. He sees absolutely no limits, no boundaries, and no horizon to the endless possibilities of life. It is the most wonderful gift that he has an innate assumption that everything is possible, available and a real option for him.

Which is why my heart breaks when I see him crippled with anxiety, consumed with depression and overwrought from sleepless nights, worry about expectations and judgement from others. Because he has accomplished more than most sixteen year olds will ever do.

So what will be will be. He might make all his exams, or some, or none. He might overcome the anxiety, fight the fear and recover his happy-go-lucky attitude in time, and prove to the world and those who've judged him that he is so very capable, gifted and talented.

Or he might not. But he has nothing whatsoever to prove - at least not to me. I am so incredibly proud of him and every little thing he has achieved. He's far from perfect, and picking up his laundry might be a bonus, but not in my wildest dreams did I think we would be here ten years ago. Or even five. And that stomach jerking anxiety I will experience on Monday morning as I drive him to his first exam will be savoured - because it's an achievement in itself. And I will probably cry.

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