Homework

Bubble missed a lot of school in her early years and those who should have known better insisted at the time of her placement with us that she would easily catch up. If her assessment  had been at all probing, it would have been obvious that expecting Bubble to catch up with her peers would be unrealistic. At the time we followed the professional advice.  We wish now that we had not, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.  Bubble did not catch up. She continues to struggle academically and she always will.

Bubble has ARND, alcohol related neuro developmental disorder, which means she has problems with memory, storing and retrieving information, abstract concepts, predicting outcomes, and organisation.  Some days, some moments, are better than others.

Bubble has always had problems doing schoolwork and homework.  She’s 9.  This academic year her homework book has 3 tasks every week. 3! Multiplication tables (most of the time she manages 5x and 10x), spellings (most of which she cannot pronounce let alone spell), and project work. Every week. That’s in addition to the expectation that she will read most evenings.  Did I say she was 9? Did I mention she has been diagnosed with ARND?

Homework has caused rages. Bubble’s, not ours. Although, we have got pretty close to feeling the rage at times!  Homework, however creatively we approach it, feeds in to Bubble’s shame and low self-esteem. She resists, she dissociates, and if we persist,  she rages.

This year we asked for an EHCP. We were advised Bubble did not meet the criteria.  We asked for therapeutic schooling. We were advised Bubble would not qualify as she does not meet the EHCP criteria, and anyway there are no therapeutic schools in our local authority. We asked that Bubble stay an extra year at junior school.  We were advised that our local authority does not like doing this.  The SENCO advised us to look at privately schooling Bubble from year 7!

Last term our social worker suggested to school that in order to take some pressure off at home, they offer a homework club.  School advised they would look into it.  This week we were told by the SENCO that there simply wasn’t going to be a homework club this year.  We countered this with our fallback position that Bubble will not be doing the majority of the homework.  We will continue to support her when her anxieties are low enough to attempt some homework, but we will not be encouraging her to complete the homework at the expense of  her mental health or the emotional temperature of our home. I am not convinced that Bubble’s teacher understood this, but she accepted that we need only show that Bubble had attempted some of the work.

I remain perplexed as to why schools and local authorities are insistent that traumatised children just have to fit in to their systems. Bubble is doing all she can to survive at school, but I am yet to be convinced that school is doing all it can to become trauma and attachment aware.

homework

 

 

Dear teacher (again)

Dear Teacher,

On the first day back at school Bubble’s teaching assistant excitedly rushed up to tell me there was a bike course and Bubble was keen to be on it. I told Bubble’s teaching assistant that I was happy for Bubble to bike on the playground, but it would not be advisable for Bubble to bike on actual ‘real world’ roads as she cannot yet safely cross roads on foot.  In the previous 2 weeks alone she had cracked her head on a lamp post, twice attempted to run across a road without looking, and had to be physically stopped from walking into a cyclist.  She cannot concentrate if there are food or food wrappers, dog poo, insects, people, loud noises, sirens, or vehicles of practically any description about. Given that the TA could not guarantee the absence of any of the above (!) I decided that Bubble would not be cycling on the road.

On the second day back at school my partner was subjected to the same conversation with the same TA, and she answered with the same decision for the same reasons. (We’re annoyingly like that, my partner and I.  We find consistency is one of the keys to good parenting.)

In the second week back at school we were asked to complete a form to give our permission for Bubble to bike on public roads. We promptly completed said form, reiterating all the information we had already offered, outlining why we did not want Bubble biking on public roads.

Today you ‘phoned me to say Bubble had completed the first part of the bike course safely on the playground. Although you knew we did not want Bubble to go on the road, you wondered whether we would now change our minds this very minute so that you could rush out to the playground and tell the instructors that she could bike on the road?  Once again I explained why our decision remains as it was.

The tone of your ‘phone call was received loud and clear.  To you we are clearly over-controlling parents who do not appreciate our daughters’ abilities. So, for the second time in 2 weeks, we have decided to have a meeting at school. (The first meeting concerned your institution repeatedly calling our other daughter by her birth surname rather than her legal surname).

We would really like you to understand that the Bubble that you see at school is very different from the Bubble we see at home, and that we are not over-controlling parents.  We are intelligent but somewhat knackered people, attempting to therapeutically re-parent to provide a frightened little bundle of energy with safety, security, love and the opportunity to grow in the best way she can with the brain she has.

Bubble needs you to take the time to listen and reflect and start to understand what trauma has done to her.  She is helpful and compliant at school – fidgety, work-avoidant, and very behind academically – but as compliant as she can be. At home she is oppositional.  She rages, shouts, hits and kicks, throws stuff, and is very defiant. These behaviours are frequent and intense. This is not because we are ogres. It is not because we are controlling. It is not because we are crap at being parents.  It is because Bubble is working out issues from her previous trauma, and our home is a safe place for her to show her anger. Her anxieties are raised by many things, of which school is just one. She’s too frightened at school to show you how scared she is. So she shows us instead.

Bubble needs you to understand what Alcohol Related Neuro Developmental Disorder is, and the effect it has on her memory and ability to think logically. She does not need to be told that she needs a hearing test as she does not appear to be taking everything in. She needs you to learn from last year’s teacher, and the teacher before that, both of whom observed that Bubble did not really settle in the classroom until the last month of the summer term.

We have needs too, as Bubble’s parents. We need to be treated as the experts about our daughter.  Our knowledge of her needs must be respected if school is to become a safer place for her.   Our advice needs to be acted on. You are the experts academically.  But we know, more than anyone, more than Bubble herself most of the time, what lies underneath her presentation and behaviours. And we know that until Bubble feels safe, she will not be as open to learning as she can be.  It does not help us to hear in meetings ‘Oh, but she doesn’t do that at school’ (sub-text: what are you doing wrong at home?).  It merely demonstrates that you do not understand our daughter or the effects of trauma, and the damage done to her brain.

So, please discard your assumptions, open your heart, and listen to us when we meet with you.

Yours frustratedly,

Bubble’s Mum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sense of identity

Us human beings are a strange lot. Whilst we need a sense of community and belonging, we also strive to portray the essential essence of ourselves, to mark ourselves as different from other human beings.  I define myself in various ways, just like all other human beings. I was born in this country.  I am from this  family.  I have done these jobs.  I live with this person.  I am a mother.  These are my values. And so on.  There is a narrative, a continuity, a past, present, and – hopefully – a future.

Imagine trying to look upwards and outwards without a solid foothold in the past. All you have are moments lost in time,  fragments of scenes that make no sense and offer no cohesive narrative. Some of these are in sharp focus, technicolour, frightening ; others are ghost-like shadows that slip in and out of memory.

Imagine living your life dominated by a whirling maelstrom of uncertainty, constantly searching for order, attempting to fit together shards of half remembered scenes in an effort to work out who you are, and where you belong.

And then add another element to that picture.  Your brain is damaged. You struggle to remember and sometimes you cannot make sense of everyday things.

It’s a perfect storm.

That sinking feeling

We very nearly made it without mishap.

 The new school year loomed.  New lunchboxes were bought, shiny new shoes were well, shiny and new. 

We ramped up the reassurance and the routines as school approached. Squeak was starting at junior school, and was excited and anxious about it. Bubble concentrated on playing the older sister role, and this helped her own anxiety. 

Masses of effort was expended in our home, as in homes across the country, to reassure our children  about the return to school. 

We both collected the girls after their first day at school. Bubble was a whirling bundle of energy, and Squeak seemed subdued. She did not want to tell us about her day. This wasn’t like her at all. 

At tea time, when we all sat down together and discussed the day, Squeak told us that her drinks bottle and books had been labelled with ‘the wrong name’. She meant her birth surname. She was terrified that she was going to get her new teacher ‘in trouble’ for telling us. We spent a long time reassuring her she had done the right thing telling us, and that her teacher was not in trouble. 

Inwardly I was seething. In July Squeak had been for a taster day at the new school and her birth surname had been called out in front of her entire year group! We dealt with the fallout from this, and received reassurances from the Head that this would not happen again, the records had been corrected, etc.

First day back and those assurances couted for nothing. I e-mailed  a fairly restrained missive to the Head. I continued to seethe. The twitter adoption community were fabulous and supportive.  Squeak had a disturbed night. 

The next day Squeak dutifully trundled to school. OH insisted on meeting with the Head and SENCO, who offered apologies and were  left in no doubt that we will be submitting a formal complaint and referring to Safeguarding should this happen again. 

My heart sinks that this has happened. Lack of care has caused Squeak anguish. She is a little girl who is struggling to make sense of her story. She wants to belong and be accepted. The actions of school staff have subjected her to shame and embarrassment. None of their written or verbal communication  with us has demonstrated any understanding about the possible impact on Squeak. Her sense of difference is already keenly felt, and these incidents serve only to compound that. Why do these particular educators not understand this? 

Once again the job of therapeutic parenting is made so much harder. So this weekend we’ll keep Squeak close and try to be therapeutic rockstars.