The chair is hard and uncomfortable, as I shift back and forward, crossing and uncrossing my legs in nervousness. There is a sickness in my stomach as I sit and listen to the comments being spoken to me from the other side of the table.
“A quiet environment will suit him better”
“He is not at the level expected for his age”
“We are not going to be able to meet his needs going into the future”
“We are not equipped to meet his requirements”
I sit silent, letting each word hit me, like small pellets being thrown at me, striking one by one. I don’t respond.
Every day that we had collected my son from school I had been met with positivity, and updates on how well he was settling in. His home book had details of tasks he has completed alongside paintings he had constructed. He had settled in.
I sat in shock at being thrown a curve ball, a switch from daily positive updates to an annual review where every update defined my son as not meeting the grade and in a school that could not accommodate him. There is nothing more hurtful than getting told that your child doesn’t belong and every comment cementing the fact that he is different.
An assessment had been done and the results were pushed across the table to us. I read the scale which defined the developmental age range, and then looked at the assessment for my son. It was separated into categories of social interaction, literacy, physical development, and mathematics. Every category placed him below his peers, which was not a surprise, but what struck me was that he had been assigned a developmental age of a year to eighteen months in many of the categories. Rhys was four years old.
I disagreed with the method of assessment, I believed that giving a minimal score for literacy, because he couldn’t read aloud was unacceptable, and that marking him down physically because he couldn’t jump when requested verbally, disadvantaged him due to the inability of him to understand perceptive language.
But I still sat silent.
I sat silent because I was using every ounce of strength to hold back the tears. I was not prepared for the bombshell they had just delivered with no positive comments of how amazing my son was and the progress he had made over the year. I had no response prepared, because I had been hit with something unexpected.
We left that day, and I cried. I ran through so many things in my head of what I should have said, about what I should have asked. But in the shock, I had just sat there and let the words hit me like rocks. The school was not right for my son, they couldn’t accommodate him, we should look at a different setting!
But although at the time I had started to construct a delayed list of words and comments I wanted to return, I am grateful for what they did. They forced us to make a decision that has changed the path for my son. His autism makes him different, it means things are approached differently, and they were right, that school was not the right fit.
We visited many schools and gathered feedback from different parents on their decisions and experience. I seeked professional guidance but received no help, just the response, “You know your son best” – but I didn’t! I knew nothing about what my son needed. I had no experience in the school system or the world of autism. It was a world I had experienced for less than a year. The truth, I believe, was that if the professionals did provide guidance a large percentage of children would be referred for specialist care, but the system just cannot accommodate it.
Within six months of that school meeting, Rhys moved to a new school. I fought every barrier and even found direct contacts within the education system to ensure he got the support he needed. Rhys joined a special needs base at the beginning of his second school year. They specialised in autism, with the additional advantage of still being within a mainstream school. He would have the professionals on site, moving at his pace and teaching him with methods suited to his development.
It was an emotional time where our expectations and future vision had been shattered. The pain of rejection towards your child is heart breaking and knocks you backwards, it hits a spot you don’t even knew exists. At the time I couldn’t make a decision with my heart, so did it with my head, detailing the factual reasons why a school move was the right thing to do.
Rhys changed schools eighteen months ago.
Last night my phone rang. Rhys’ teacher spoke on the other end of the line, she spoke positively about every aspect of Rhys and his development at school. His excitement when he arrives and all the end of year activities which are being planned.
But the unexpected update was around his engagement. She spoke about how he interacts with the other children and the friendships he has formed. Coming from a school where he sat on the side-lines, trailing behind the level of his peers, and unintegrated in the classroom, to be told your child, with social challenges, has friends, is something I have no words to describe. He is part of a group, he is part of the class, he even has a best friend.
The decision I made with my head over eighteen months ago was the right one, and I am grateful for that annual review that left me in tears. They did the right thing, because moving Rhys was the right thing to do for him, even if I found it difficult to accept at the time. And if it had not been the right decision, it was something we could have looked at again and changed.
Because a decision is for that moment with the information you have at that time. If over time those details change, you can always reassess and take a different path. But you will not know unless you take that leap and try.
Head to my Facebook page and share your thoughts. What education solution has met your child’s needs? What was your experience? Are you struggling to make a decision?