Parent and Teacher Support In School
Unless your child is obviously struggling in infant and junior school, I’m not sure that anything needs to be done, if you already have a diagnosis (I say that because, if you don’t have a diagnosis you might not know that there could be anything done to help anyway). Aspergers didn’t really become a problem until I got into high school. Before that, I think everyone was just about accepting enough for anything weird about me to be ignored, and if I didn’t get a joke or whatever, people just brushed it aside – it’s like they didn’t really know how to pick faults to bully people for.
My brother was a very angry and destructive young child, but he had an early diagnosis, so they were able to put a lot in place for him – anger management, one to one help etc. Chris was similar as a young child, but with no diagnosis to speak of, he was just a ‘naughty’ child who got into trouble a lot. A diagnosis buffers you from that in a way – my brother hurt other children sometimes, and whilst parents weren’t best pleased, they understood; but with Chris, he just got into a lot of trouble.
In my opinion, the help and support will be needed from high school onwards. This is where it becomes obvious that we have a lack of awareness of social trends and an inability to follow cliquey behaviour – which ultimately, despite our intelligence and maturity, can often start to affect the work; not the ability to understand things, but, with me anyway, the difficulties lead to absence which means that even though the understanding and intelligence is there to cope with the work, you’re not physically there to do the work and hand it in to get the grades that you could easily get.
In both situations that I know of where bullying hasn’t really being a problem, the students were aware from the start that the person had Aspergers. Firstly, with my brother – from the beginning of school he’s been with the same people, and he followed them up to high school, and from day one they’ve all learnt about him and his problems, so now, they all just have this understand of how he is, and it doesn’t seem to have hindered him at all – he’s outgrown his anger and destructiveness and is coping amazingly well in a mainstream high school with no bullying, and he has friends.
With me, when I started a new school after my diagnosis, all the teachers and students knew about my AS and dyspraxia from the first day there and they were surprisingly accepting and supportive. I never just said that I had AS or used the word Autism, I always just explained some of the more prominent symptoms and how it might affect me day to day, and they just added in at the end that it was called Aspergers.
If you haven’t done that and bullying is already happening, it’s largely down to how the school handles bullies. In junior school I was bullied properly once, and my Dad went down to the school almost immediately and spoke with the head teacher, and whatever the head teacher said to the girl bullying me, worked – but as students get older, it becomes almost impossible to punish them with any positive effect.
Having your parent come in to sort out the bullying when you’re over 10, is incredibly embarrassing and if anyone see and catches on to what is going on, it will probably get worse – so if you’re going to be sorting it out, phone in or email as much as you can, rather than coming in – and don’t do it without your child knowing! If any action is taken, it’s nice, as the person being bullied, to know about it beforehand in case it’s just going to make the situation worse.
What Makes Things Worse?
Before I changed schools, I, unfortunately, accepted the schools attempts to make the bullying stop, but at least I have a ‘what not to do’ list for you because of that.
My head of year got me in a room with the people who were bullying me the most, and asked us all to tell our side of the story. There were 3 bullies who were all very close friends, and then me sat shaking and almost in tears. They had a solid story as to why it was all my fault, and I was speechless. So that really made things a lot worse for me; mostly because they bullied me more afterwards because they now knew how much it was affecting me, but partly because it was a horrible experience, and because the teachers didn’t really believe me.
The next bright idea they had was to put me on a part time lesson plan, which all the other students immediately noticed and realised it was due to the bullying, so then I just got bullied about that on top of everything else. I was removed from so many lessons it was just pointless me being there at all, and they never had a teacher to watch me when I wasn’t in class, and I ended up in the IT room where my head of year was based, just sat doing nothing.
Brushing it aside until it’s a huge problem is also extremely unhelpful. My Mum always made me feel comfortable enough to tell her if I was having any issues, and she asked me what I wanted her to do about it, even letting me word emails or letters with her, so I knew at each step what was happening. I can’t imagine how much more lonely it must feel to be bullied at school and come home and not be able to talk about it. Be open with your child, and if you’re being bullied, be open with your parents. Nothing can change if nothing is said.
What If The Bullying Continues?
If it’s so bad that your child is starting to miss school, it might be an idea, if they want to, to move school as quickly and smoothly as possible, without too much disruption to their work.
When I decided to move school, it was done in the summer holiday, so I didn’t really miss anything, and the break was going to be there to throw me out of my routine anyway, so starting a new school at the end of it wasn’t really much of an issue. The new school were made very aware of how bad the bullying had become at my old school, and took care to place me with people who had similar interests as me, which actually, worked really well for a while. They also took my grades from my old school and put me in the right classes from the start, so there was no switching around once they’d worked out what level I was working at.
If you have a diagnosis and you’re moving school, going to the school, after the students have left, to look around and meet any teachers you’d be dealing with a lot, is very helpful – it’s what I did when I went into a new school after I’d got diagnosed. They gave me my timetable and let me wander around to familiarize myself with where all my lessons would be. It needs to be empty, because so soon after bullying, people who are a similar age to you but you don’t know, can be very intimidating, and if you’re there before you’ve officially started, they don’t know who you are or that you’re a new student, so it can be an awkward situation, especially if you’re there with your parents; when I started a new school before my diagnosis, I went to look around with my Mum when the students were there, and a few of them made some smart remarks and it made me really anxious.
What I mean by anxiety is just a general anxiety about things at school which can overwhelm someone on the spectrum. For me, it was anything from sitting at the front of a classroom or wearing a certain part of the uniform to being uncomfortable with the routine of lunchtime or preferring to miss certain lessons.
You need to be prepared to listen to what the person with AS is anxious about, and understand that even if it seems absolutely ridiculous to you because it’s such a tiny problem, it might feel like the end of the world to that person, and you laughing at them or brushing it aside is going to make them feel like they were stupid to bring it up, and might discourage them from asking for help again, which can result in them closing into themselves and feeling very alone.
When I first started a new school after my diagnosis, I had meetings with the head teacher to discuss what they would put in place for me. All the teachers were informed of my disabilities, the exam boards were contacted so that I would be allowed extra time to complete all exams, all my worksheets would be printed out on blue paper (to help with my dyspraxia). You need the school on your side, so that they can support your child as much as you need them to – but they’re limited to what they can do without an official diagnosis.
High school is by far the most anxiety inducing phase of school. We left it fairly open as to what support I would have initially, and then as we went through the first few months, they put more in place for me – I was allowed an early lunch time pass so I could avoid the crowds, but when it still proved too much for me, they allowed me to go home at lunchtime. As it got colder I realised that I was intensely uncomfortable in the school jumper, so they let me wear a plain one of my choice, as well as some trousers which weren’t quite uniform, but that I was comfortable in. I eventually was allowed to miss the first lesson on a Monday morning as I found the switch from weekend to weekday very difficult, and I also skipped PE due to my dyspraxia.
A lot of these problems were quite big things, but some smaller things which I got overly anxious about were where to go at break time; and they let me go where I felt comfortable, I just had to quickly explain to any teachers inside why I was there, but a better solution would have been to have some kind of pass. Where possible, I prefer not to have to explain why what I’m doing is different from the norm, so if you can have the reasons written down on a card for your child to just hand to the teachers, that would take away some of the anxiety about speaking.
I also found it very unnerving to have to sit at the front of a classroom, and so it was subtly arranged that I could be seated at the back. It’s nice to have things arranged with the teachers, but then put into practice without other students knowing why it’s happened. Absolutely anything which might draw attention to the person with AS should be avoided.
What Makes Things Worse?
Lack of communication is pretty much the main thing that can make things worse. If you’ve discussed a plan of what will be put in place to make the person with AS feel comfortable at school, but then that information isn’t shared between all the staff, your child might end up getting confronted a lot by teachers who like to lay down the law, so to speak, and it can get overwhelming, trying to explain why you are wearing a different jumper, or why you’re inside at break time etc. Someone with AS who really isn’t comfortable with being vocal at all, may end up getting into trouble, and the parent would end up having to phone in and try to straighten out the issue. It’s easier if from the start, everyone is fully aware of what’s going on, and are made aware of any updates throughout the year. Also, keep everything up to date – i.e. some things which are in place to help now may be useless later on, or your child might be leaning on things a little too much, when in reality they could have coped. If they are stuck having everything done for them, the real world is going to be a massive shock.
Some days, I didn’t feel able to go to school – whether it was just a bad feeling, or it felt like a bad day because something had gone wrong with my morning routine, I sometimes just knew that I couldn’t make it into school. Being forced to go at that point can only end in a meltdown. If your child with AS is prone to this kind of pattern, try and speak to the school so that they understand that this can happen sometimes. For me, feeling like I needed to be at school at 8.30am or not at all, really put a lot of pressure on me and I spent too much time panicking, but then after 10am or so, I would feel fine. Speak with the school and say that if this kind of thing does happen, would it be okay to bring them in later, and find out all the times so you can get them there at the right time for the next segment of the day. Also, a good idea would be to agree with the teachers that if this has happened, your child can just say they’ve been at an appointment, to save any awkward explaining. Having that in place, rather than going to school, having a meltdown which other students might see, and having to be sent home etc. would be much more helpful.
Getting the Education
Obviously the whole point of school is to get the qualifications so can you go on to college and university etc. so, if you’ve had an awful time in school and you don’t manage to get the qualifications, it feels like a massive waste of time; plus, you’ve potentially put yourself through all the bullying etc. for nothing. So, it’s really important that you feel like you’ve done the best you can and are happy with what you have to show for your time there.
The most important years, when you actually do the exams for your GCSE’s, are years 10 and 11 – which, as I’ve learnt, means very little to parents, so basically, when your child is 15/16. Unfortunately, for me, these years were the worst for me; Aspergers plus puberty/hormones etc. was a hideous combination. And, not necessarily my hormones, just that everyone else changed so much that I didn’t fit in at all anymore, so try and help them to understand popular trends and music, so they at least know what everyone is going on about – and on the plus side, you’ll be a ‘cool’ parent if you are ‘up to date’ with pop culture.
Find a way to make those 2 years as easy and anxiety free as possible. It will be different for everyone, so you will need to just talk it out until you can find a good compromise. And always remember, that if there really isn’t a solution, you can always think about getting the GCSE’s or equivalent at a local college the following year – anything they manage to get at high school is a huge achievement.
I ended up leaving my school halfway through the course, but my school supported me quite well by sending me to some catch-up classes which were running for the students from the previous year who’d failed certain GCSE’s. Granted, I didn’t attend many, but I still managed to get 2 GCSE’s, one in English and one in Math – lower levels than I should have got, but not bad to say I’d missed a whole year! If you want it bad enough, there will be a solution, just don’t give up.
What Makes Things Worse?
The idea that it’s now or never will make things a lot worse. It will add so much pressure that even if they might have managed to get through the last 2 years before, they probably won’t now. Thinking that if you mess up now, you’ve messed up your entire life, is the worst feeling; like I said before, you can always go to college and start over, or probably even pick up where you left off if you have taken some official exams.
If, as a parent, you had very high hopes for your child because, underneath the AS, they are very intelligent, then don’t feel disappointed or angry with them if they are failing school. It won’t be because they’re slacking – they’ll have all that intelligence still, it’s just other factors that are forcing them to fail. If you make it clear that you’re disappointed in them, or even just let it slip by accident, then you’ll again be adding pressure that they don’t need. They are doing their best and that is always good enough for you – if it’s not good enough for the school, then like I said – college is always an option.
I guess the bottom line is that pressure makes things worse. Deadlines and pressure and stress.