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.