What does ‘fine’ mean?

What does ‘fine’ mean?

By Rosie and Jo’s mum.

“When she’s in school, she’s fine…..”

“Once you’ve dropped her off, she’s fine.”

“She’s been fine all day.”

I’ve probably heard these phrases and other variations of them hundreds of times over the years.

When I had watched the 12 year old Rosie grow progressively more pale and anxious as the morning progressed, coaxed her to eat a couple of mouthfuls of breakfast, seen her struggle to gather the courage to get into the car, sat in the car park for two hours until she could force herself to get out of the car and go into school, someone in school would look me square in the eye and tell me that she would be ‘fine’.

I knew she wasn’t ‘fine’.  I knew she was going through a tough time but they chose to see only the mask and declare her to be fine.

Even when the CAMHS psychologist was telling me and the school that she was stressed and anxious in school, they declared her to be ‘fine’.

When her seven year old sister was running away on the way to school and would be non-verbal, throwing her shoes and bag across the kitchen when we arrived home after school, the school declared her to be ‘fine’.

When she had to be peeled off me hysterical in the school doorway, they would call me ten minutes later and tell me she was ‘fine now’.

Professionals made recommendations about how to support them in school to reduce their stress and anxiety but the teachers often didn’t see the need to implement them because ‘She’s fine in school.’  There were clear and sometimes recorded assumptions that the problem must be at home.

My children weren’t ‘fine’ – far from it….

The professional’s reports undertaken for our latest appeal to the SEND tribunal all agreed that Jo couldn’t communicate her distress in school but that it was significant. They also agreed that the trauma of the year of having her needs ignored is serious.

I did my best.  I told staff verbally, daily at the school gate and in meetings.  I emailed descriptions of the distress I saw at home.  I recorded the girls’ thoughts and wishes and sent them to school and CAMHS.  I helped them to talk to other adults and explained the things they couldn’t say for them.

Jo is now in a school where they choose to see behind the mask (see ‘Masking’ and ‘Blending In’).  Where they believe me when I tell them she is upset or anxious about something.  Where they can see that looking fine just means she is unable to communicate.  Where they welcome the sad faces and reward her for telling them she can’t do something.

They can see that looking fine doesn’t mean she is fine and they understand the harm that chronic stress and anxiety cause to children.

“She is fine in school” means:

  • She isn’t causing the staff a problem
  • The signs of her distress are subtle so easy to ignore
  • She isn’t causing any disruption to the class
  • She is managing her anxiety by copying her peers and trying to blend in
  • She can’t communicate her emotions
  • Her attempts to communicate can be attributed to bad behaviour
  • The staff can’t/don’t want to see what you are telling them is there
  • School staff can assume that you must be doing something wrong at home
  • She doesn’t feel safe enough in school to be herself
  • She is causing herself harm by holding in her distress for hours on end
  • She will be exhausted by the effort of holding it together
  • She is making acceptable academic progress

“Fine in school” means that the teacher’s needs are being met by the child and nothing more.   Teachers should be taught to clearly differentiate their needs from those of the child and understand that, if they start focusing on the child’s needs, then their own will probably be met too.

Maybe teacher’s opinions on SEND should only be considered in the context of their knowledge, training and experience in SEND?

I would like to make a rule that no adult is ever allowed to use the word ‘fine’ about a child again. They should be taught (and expected) to properly describes what is actually happening for that child in that situation (see Professionals in Education make Too Many Assumptions?).

Fine is a cop-out and often completely wrong.

If this relates to your situation then this post may help you to think about how to approach the situation –  It’s not fair but I hope this will help to make it easier.

If you would like to understand more about why teachers seem to lack insight into their poor understanding this may help:  When Professionals are Incompetent.


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26 thoughts on “What does ‘fine’ mean?

  1. Best part is the tactic used by teachers to pacify parents with concerns is to implement the good ol’ school/home communication book, to look at in writing “He was fine all day” BS day in, day out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. what a nightmare. I wonder if anyone asked him if he was fine? And if he had the communication skills and confidence to say if he wasn’t? The assumptions post may give you some ideas about asking for information rather than assumptions if that is what you want / have the energy to do … 😦


      1. That’s a very good point. “Fine” is the non-committal response of most people, of any age, but particularly young teenagers, who know their reality won’t be understood by others or is just too difficult to get across. “Fine” pretty much always means the exact opposite of fine! If you’re doing well and are happy, do you say you’re ‘fine’? Well, maybe; it depends on tone of voice and other contextual cues and in greeting is often just an empty ritual; but those are things autistic kids don’t excel at in the first place. So even if the child did say ‘I’m fine’ it wouldn’t mean anything useful. ‘Fine’ is just another coping mechanism, to deflect further enquiry. It’s an even worse word than ‘nice’, and schools hate that one. It should be added to the list!


  2. What does an adult who has struggled through life not knowing what was wrong with them being shunned by parents and other people as an embarrassment, arkward, difficult, obnoxious etc etc etc. What happens to those for the next 30 40 50 60 years. Who is there for them having to cope in adulthood??????

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My husband is a MH care co-ordinator in an adult community MH team, he thinks a significant number of his clients are undiagnosed ASD. But apart from the bog standard NHS fire fighting MH services (not to denigrate the multi disciplinary teams who work so hard, this is simply a reflection of “austerity NHS 2017”) there is very, very little to support adults in this situation & what there is in increasingly difficult to access. Some of the best intervention IMO is being done by arts organisations like Heart & Soul and Meet me at the Albany (Lewisham). There may be other similar organisations around the UK.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Just wondering – are there any tools for really assessing ‘fine’ that a parent could show to the school? a set of questions that can be asked to decide whether ‘fine’ is really what it appears to be?


    1. brilliant question. I will ask around! If there are none there is nothing to stop us from developing and sharing something for parents to try.

      Here is a comment from someone:
      Only thing I have ever done was with G’s Reception teacher moons ago…
      The teacher was very peaceful and very keen to understand!! I spent the morn in school and simply pointed out the times she appeared to be ‘fine!!’
      For ex.. she tidied the pencils…teacher saw how ‘helpful’ she was… I saw the teacher said 5mins to playtime…she hated the yard and couldnt manage it! Walking into asaembly… I saw G wringing her hands over and over…teacher didnt. I saw G looking intently and the girl nxt to her and mirrored her sitting position etc! During the assembly she laughed when the girl did, coughed when the girl did and played with her ponytail…as the girl did!!! And so on…. xx

      Liked by 1 person

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  5. I was always considered to be ‘fine’ at school. I can assure you that this meant I was quiet and did my work, not that I was happy, secure or that my needs were being met. Please keep fighting for your daughter – she will be so grateful when she grows to adulthood… I just had to get on with it.


  6. My daughter was ‘fine’ at school but of course she wasn’t. I wanted her to go to a specialist independent speech and language school for secondary and so we needed a (then) Statement so I asked school to apply and they refused. So I took advice and got independent reports carried out by an ed psych, an OT and a Speech and Language therapist, all of whom specialise in complex needs children. They ALL saw exactly what was going on, how my daughter was using multiple strategies at school to remain ‘fine’ when she clearly wasn’t. The Speech and Language assessment was the most useful of them all as the therapist also considered social communication. We got the Statement from the LA and funding for the independent school – her then school still refused to believe there was a problem….


  7. I sympathise with all parents in this situation, and of course the poor children whose needs are being overlooked. It actually makes me feel lucky (!) that my child is one of the ones who doesn’t mask – if he’s not ‘fine’ in school, he shows it, and how! It has its own drawbacks – among which, the fact that knowing he’s having difficulties doesn’t make it any easier to interpret what they are or how to help – but the one thing nobody can ever say about him is that he’s “fine”, or that he doesn’t need support. In fact he needs a lot more support in school than he does at home, but because he’s not bottling up the stress, although it does still affect his mental state after school, it’s not nearly as severe as the meltdowns many poor parents have to face. I really am thankful that he is such a “difficult” child, because it has meant his needs have been recognised and at least attempted to be met so much sooner. I can’t even begin to imagine the struggles parents of masking children must face; it must be like beating against a brick wall on a daily basis, and frankly I don’t think I would cope! So my hat is off to all of you!


    1. Separating the needs of the teacher from the needs of the child. the quiet bright child is meeting the teacher’s needs regardless of wether the teacher is recognising or meeting the child’s needs – as in SEN support in schools blog. So very true. xx


  8. Reblogged this on Thistleyroses and commented:
    Funnily enough this was like reading about me and certainly like reading about Sophie who is more and more often complaining of tummy pains that I think are related to anxiety (she has a hospital appointment with the paediatrician on the 29th just to check it isn’t something else mind, but I am certain it’s anxiety related.) Well worth a read xx


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