Those wretched, sparkly new uniform, shoes and bag pictures with happy, smiley, children that are widely shared at the beginning of a new school year were enough to finish me off some years.
For Peter, it was especially cruel. He often felt that his childhood had been ruined, that he had spent most of it feeling scared and unable to enjoy anything because he felt so terrible about school.
Each school day morning he would be unbearably stressed. In the evenings he tried to enjoy clubs but it was just too hard as he was too busy recovering from school and was often in meltdown or dissociated. He was always scared in the holidays, despite being hopeful and optimistic that each new school year might be better. What new traumas would the new school year bring? There was never decent transition preparation, just a tokenistic, superficial visit if anything.
His respite, for years, came in the form of collecting wood, building fires and cooking on them. The job of collecting the wood and breaking it up helped use up the extra adrenaline and the biofeedback also helped. Few don’t find campfires therapeutic. We loved them. Even in the snow!
As he got older and the social and academic demands increased, the determination of his teachers not to believe or support him became even more entrenched and determined.
Behind the scenes, unknown to me or Peter things were getting more and more ‘nasty’.
Peter’s mental health deteriorated at varying rates, generally depending on his class teacher. He had one for a term that was lovely – when he said the heat from the sun made his skin feel horrible she gave him the seat closest to the big classroom fan! Records show that at other times when her input depended on a conversation with the Head, simple support or strategies were not possible… Still, I remember that term was lovely respite and a few months of hope.
As he got older he watched the independence and confidence of his peers increase, his anxiety caused the opposite to happen for him. The few things he had been able to manage started to feel impossible again… to summarise, as the years progressed there were:
Higher anxiety levels
Reduction in independence skills
and finally, by the beginning of year 5, he was properly broken.
Now his childhood mattered to nobody it seemed. After a lengthy spell on a children’s mental health ward and a foul battle recorded elsewhere, the Local Authority were forced to support Specialist Residential Provision. He had not recovered from regressed-dissociated state and been out of circulation for many months. His peers had most definitely moved on.
Let’s face it, now, the longer that he was out of school the better (to the Local Authority) as it would literally avoid thousands per month of cost. And so the delays continued.
Peter was out of school for a year before he went to his first residential school. He was there for just over two terms. Again he had a great teacher, but other key staff there failed to understand his mental health needs so before long he was a mess and again out of school. Nevertheless, he made a good friend that we still love spending time with today when he can make the 100-mile trip.
Again he was out of school.
No social life
Trying to recovering from another trauma
Not knowing if another school would be found. Not knowing if he would be accepted. Not knowing if there would be more unbearable fighting for me that I simply could not protect him from. Not knowing when he would know. On the scrap heap at 11 years old. No life. No friendships. No education. Totally dependent on a younger sister and (very much older) mum for company and fun.
From the beginning of Year 5 to the beginning of Year 8 (1/4 of his life) was like this. It was punctuated with just 4 terms in two different schools and a long spell in hospital.
Not knowing, not knowing when you will know – and not knowing if the news will be devastating: a ruling that you have to manage (a school you can’t cope with) what everyone that knows you, knows is impossible.
One day I think (hope) that Peter and others will be able to articulate just how exquisitely difficult these times are. I don’t feel that I have done the sense of hopelessness and despair justice here. I do know that it was almost physically painful for him and that not knowing if/when it would end just the most awful experience.
This is the life for 100’s and 1000’s of invisible children. Not all of them will make it to a school like Peter’s, with trained staff and a strong mental health team to put him back together.
- For more about the lengthy hospital stay see here
- For more about the pain from my perspective see here
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