It’s four o’clock in the afternoon as I write this. I have just returned home with my son feeling refreshed and re-energised as a result of the afternoon’s events. The feeling is not too dissimilar to how I feel after a winter’s walk except this feeling of mine has its roots in emotional exhilaration rather than physical exercise. You see, today has been a pretty big day for us. After a year of school refusing, I have finally got my son into school.
For some of you reading this you may wonder what is so special about this. I mean going to school is a routine thing for many children who hardly batter an eyelid about walking into school and siting in a classroom. For my son however it has been an immense challenge. Ever since last September, when his anxiety rocketed out of control he has struggled to go anywhere outside the comfort of his home including school. In fact school caused so much fear in him that for while we couldn’t even discuss it. It was clear to us that we had to focus our energies on helping him to feel better first before even contemplating school.
My view is that unless a child is well, school is simply not possible sometimes and in these circumstances I have learnt it is much better to focus on the things that will help him to access education in the long term. I do not want to force my son to be educated because the system says so because to force him to do so when he is unwell or not ready to learn simply risks him relapsing again. Saying that though we did agree to home education becoming involved as we didn’t want our son to think that he could opt out altogether.
So very slowly we have helped him move from being an anxious and sleep-deprived child to one who is now able to sit in the car and be taken to school without any panic attacks and worry on our part that he will try and escape from our moving vehicle. However it hasn’t been easy. It has been a very long slog, an uphill struggle, that has seen many moments of doubt and despair, arguments and tears. I have found myself questioning professionals and demanding more from them that they can give. I’ve found myself arguing with my husband and envying his timely escapes to work. I have even doubted my own ability to parent.
However I’ve never lost my determination to do all I can for my son and I’ve never lost hope that his life can get better. I’ve learnt to listen to my son more, to follow my instinct more and to run with things when opportunities have arisen. What I mean by this is when my son’s anxiety is low I challenge him out of his comfort zone, when it is high I back off. This ebb and flow of challenging him, not challenging him is hard at times; it makes you feel as though its one step forwards two steps back. Often it makes you feel as if you’re making no progress at all and it is not until you’re several months down the road that you can see the progress you and your child have made.
So it was that this September, a year after he first became unwell, I could finally see some improvements in my son. He was sleeping better, he was starting to go out and enjoy going out and he was starting to engage better with one of his tuors. I felt that now was the time to discuss his education so one day when he was at his most calm, I brought the subject up. I told him that he had to have an education and that he had a choice; to continue with the home tutoring or to go back to school. I also told him what the authority had told us; that if he didn’t make an attempt to return to school, the council would withdraw the funding for his place (which is at a special school for ASD children). I was worried about this and whether this threat would cause him a lot of pressure but I realised I had to be honest with him. So I explained it to him and reassured him that he wasn’t expected to return to full time schooling but that he could start off very slowly. I left him to think about it and after a while he agreed to give it a try.
Amazed by this turn-around, we said our goodbyes to his home tutor and started to focus on helping him back to school. It wasn’t easy; he was still axious but his anxiety was of more manageable levels and he was able to progress from looking around school to doing two lessons a week in an IT class. The idea is to start engaging him with subjects he is interested in whilst we work out how best to support him in the more academic subjects. We are hoping that the authority will fund a TA to support him; it is something that the educational psychologist has recommended so we will just have to wait and see what transpires over the next few months.
But for now we have much to enjoy.