by BERN MORLEY
“He’s just incredibly sad all the time.”
I knew I was doing that furious blinking thing I do when I’m trying not to cry.
“He’s just not coping Mrs Morley, I’m sorry but I’m just not sure that this is the right school for your son.” I angrily wiped the tears from my face and looked at the Principal. This was a state school, I mean, they didn’t even expel the kid that constantly tried to kick his teacher in the testicles, yet here she was telling me that my sweet Sam could no longer attend? I turned to look at his teacher. She didn’t meet my eye.
“So then, what do we do?” I knew I sounded childlike, whiny. Not like I should. Not like a mother should. Not like his advocate should.
“Well, there are schools that are more suitable for a child like Sam.”
“A child like Sam?” I was thrown. Sure, Sam is an eccentric child. He’s a child that needs a little extra help with reading and writing and I’m not deluded, he is definitely different, but “a child like him” sounded so sinister, so final.
“A socially and emotionally challenged child that has difficulty learning without support.” This sentence was delivered with a well-rehearsed and I’d like to think, well-meaning smile. “Sam is not a normal child. When we met him, when you enrolled him, I didn’t foresee these kind of challenges.” She looked around nervously, at the floor, anywhere, but at me. When she finally shifted in her chair and looked up, her demeanour had changed. She wanted to get her message through to me, my feelings were no longer her priority. “Look, he’s just not progressing here, and frankly, we don’t have the time to spend with him. Not the time he needs. I’m sorry Mrs Morley, but you’ll need to make other arrangements for his schooling.” I blinked. Hard. “I have the name of a few institutions; I mean educational institutions that take children like ‘him.” They know how to deal with his quirks, his learning disability, they can help.”
And that right there, that word, was the magic one – HELP. Four little letters that could change his world. Because that’s all any of us want for him. When you are holding your new born baby in your arms you aren’t thinking about this conversation. You aren’t even imagining that getting an education for your child will be an issue. Because you live in Australia and you are lucky.
There is no denying Sam is a different kid. He has Aspergers. He’s not an angry child. He’s not silly, he’s actually one of the best behaved children in his class. Where he struggles is to understand that not everyone is going to want to have a conversation about his particular topic of choice. Flight paths of A380s for instance or the ins and outs of how a tornado is formed. He doesn’t always read social situations well. He is little. He gets tired easily. But he is generally the loveliest, wittiest and ironically the smartest and most mature child in his group. Not being biased, he just is. He is a joy, yet at times, he just needs a kind, patient and gentle person to guide him. To want to teach him.
And I understand where these teachers are coming from. They have 30 children in their class. They are under resourced, underfunded, under appreciated and underpaid, they don’t have the time to give him one on one attention. Yet, in Queensland, Sam had an aid, he was in a funded environment. He was perfectly fine in a mainstream school environment. And I know – we moved here, to Victoria, I shouldn’t complain but excuse me for a minute while I do. Because this is Australia – is it not? How ridiculous that from State to State these rules change.
Yet there I was, being told, that he wasn’t really welcome although, there was a “perfect school” for Sam, just around the corner, at a nominal (and astronomical) fee. And, please don’t get me wrong, I have no issue spending money to educate my children but my point is that we should not HAVE to. We are a first world country FFS, we are supposed to have access to education, health and disability support for EVERY child, regardless or wealth or privilege.
Right now, Sam is in the process of being assessed. He can only receive extra support in a mainstream classroom situation if he is deemed to have Autism, yet he will never receive this diagnosis. He has high functioning Autism – Aspergers, not funded by the Victorian Government for extra classroom assistance. So we wait and Sam doesn’t progress.
I’ve spoken with Principals from neighbouring schools and while they sympathise, they are the first to tell me he is one of those many “middle” children. One that needs assistance but isn’t recognised by the Victorian education department as such.
Tonight, like a lot of nights, Sam told me he’d had a “hard day” and started to cry. As I held him I realised that I, his advocate, needed to change his little world. Make it understandable and workable. I guess I just need a little help to work out how.
Bern is a Gen X, child of the 80′s. Kept busy being a working mother of 3 children, she writes beautiful and amusing posts on her blog which you can find here.