It’s a familiar scenario; the start of the school year. The anxiety levels rise with each new day and parents muster our best co-regulation skills and positivity focus as we lead our children in to the lion’s den. All the “first day photos” appear on social media and we scroll on by as we are just happy if our kids get in the car each morning.
This year is the third in a global pandemic. It’s no wonder that neurodivergent students are leaving regular school in droves. Home schooling and “school can’t” numbers spike. Teachers at risk of catching the virus, getting sick, burning out. The education system, previously struggling, now in crisis.
I sit here, penning this blog and thinking about how on earth I’m going to support my son to wade through the haze, to feel safe enough to attend.
He goes. For three days. Then he won’t go. A teacher upset him, telling him off for not having a text book, telling off others in the class which really conflicts with his sense of justice. Another teacher spoke too fast and he didn’t understand the lesson. My son lost his way. No way is he going until I have “told the school about him”, again. He’s home with me for day four and we are busy remote learning, again. Such is the life of a parent, especially a parent of a beautiful, sensitive and wonderfully emotional, neurodivergent child. I understand him and accept just the way he is and wouldn’t want him any other way.
Preparations for the meeting begin. His student profile has been updated and I’m armed with a few references about neurodiversity affirming practices and why reward and punishment systems do not, and will not work. We are ready to go.
Out of the blue, one of my son’s teachers, new to the school, set the class a task to write a letter of introduction and submit it to him so he can get to know each student. Well, this is a first! What a wonderful opportunity for my son to self-advocate, to explain his interests, his life but most importantly, his NEEDS at school. Instead of barking a list of expectations for the students, this teacher wants to know about the students, as humans, as individuals. I encouraged my son to take the bull by the horns and really speak up for himself.
It wasn’t easy for him to write, he’s just not used to this, but what he wrote was profound! He explained how he feels about school and why he finds it “ten times harder” because of his disabilities. He goes on to explain masking, difficulties with handwriting, and he requests opportunities to leave the classroom at times when he needs to regulate.
I knew that this letter was good, but I didn’t realise it would be such a major step in his life. I sent it through ahead of the meeting with school and with my son’s permission, I asked the school to share it with all teachers.
Without revealing too much private information about teachers, let’s just say the response has been one of shock, empathy, a shared lived experience and jolting educators awake. Whilst we parents must support our children and advocate for their best interests, there’s nothing like the communication directly from the student, in their own words, in their own way.
There’s nothing like self-advocacy.