The School/Parent Interface

Having three bright boys was NOT a gift.

SEAN, MY ELDEST, was tested at being past genius level at 6 ½ and languished at school.

Possibly my not understand in the education system here in Australia did not help – in my native NZ, when I was attending school, everyone started on their fifth birthday and the wrinkles – up or down – were ironed out as they went along.

Here in Brisbane, as he was just so bright and bored in the childminding arena I thought he should be fine once in school.  He started early as he sat just inside the cut off point by 2 weeks – so a middle Feb baby started just before he was five years old.  Something I would never suggest is done just because the kid is bright – what a nightmare . . . Having duly found a smallish caring school I enrolled him, sat back and got the ride of my life.

I soon learnt to dread picking him up in the afternoon.  There was always a story I needed to hear from the teacher – he was a lovely boy. . . BUT . . .

This accelerated after his first vaccination (see separate stories on this and mercury and allergies and food).  We then were graced with an amazing teacher, Kathy Trichel – who was our little miracle worker.  She left the school to be a specialist elsewhere after we had him in her class. . . She had him working with a tape deck; she used educational kinesiology and anything else she had picked up to help.

He could not find a place to sit on the mat and used to sit on the other children.  He would spend all day sharpening everyone’s pencils.  He would be very helpful, nice kid – just majorly disruptive.  Eventually the Child Guidance people beckoned.  More interviews – psychologists, child developmental people – then the final straw – the idea was Ritalin and /or severe physiological programming – behaviour modification style.  Having studied some pysch at uni, I was not impressed with these options and took off on tangents as only a natural therapist mother can.

Soon he was put on a strict gluten/preservative/sugar/etc diet.  He already had not been on dairy or sugar all of his life – I just extended it and reinforced the severity – I had loosened up as he had matured.  I had him then allergy tested and off I went to sort out his gut, having all he was less allergic to rotated over a week . .  . . . using Glutamine, slippery elm powder, Vit C and anything else I could think of.  I found a cranial chiropractor.  We started ANSUA (A New Start for the Under Achiever) programmes.  I found someone who had a cross crawling patterning machine (EXOCOR) and he was on this many times a day.  He had started up with the educational kinesiologist, we did exercises in adjusting his visual perceptions and helping restore normal brain function and we discovered he had no perception in his visual field on the left side.

No one would keep him down a class.  It was explained to me that if they kept him down, all the others would have to be as well – he was more than bright enough  . . .  Just as he was coming up mid primary school, we moved and I kept him at the old school til the end of the year and placed him back in the new school in Grade 4 the following year – explaining that if he didn’t tell anyone he had already done it – no one would know as now he as in with his age-mates.

Irlen Lenses beckoned.  From there we needed a developmental optometrist to fit glasses – and what a shock – the guy was surprised he could see at all as his brain was doing very interesting things with his vision.  Thus he started with glasses first and then we went onto the coloured lenses, after adjusting his head. (Cranial bones).  The first day he put them on – he was so impressed!!! He beaming handed them to me to show me that the hills over there had houses on them!! He did not realise that I could already see them!

This did tend to explain why all the ball games (cricket/soccer and everything else) I had sent him off to were useless – he always won ‘best attitude/most improved’ – but he really was handicapped and had spent all that time hiding it so we thought better of him.

The Irlen lenses he was supposed to have were really dark brown.  I thought that possibly if we did a bit of background work we could assist to move the colour down to a more manageable colour/tint.  I found a specialist orthodontist who was not interested in braces, but in bringing his jaw (and hence his whole body/spine) into alignment.  Wearing an interesting splint except when eating was something else the kid had to do: making him stand out even more .. . This was achieved along with intensive chiropractic to assist the cranial bones to become very mobile and assist with his breathing.

All this was in addition to the ‘odd’ food/supplements and the cross crawling.  He had been made up all manner of crawling/swinging gadgets to help with proprioceptive work and his life was very full of self improvements.

Life did not really get easier for Sean – what is not in here is the domestic turmoil of  a previously wonderful co parenting arrangement swinging off to be as rabid as they come with the introduction of a step mother, and her two very part time children.  All sorts of many variations of abuse arrived with this.  I was powerless to prevent any of it as the Family Law Court was very specific about how important contact with his dad was – even though his dad was not even in the house when he was to be there – which meant his step relations had great fun with him.

The major trouble that had been brewing all year finally coming to a head – he was finally picked up by the police being forced by his step brother to steal.  He had been given a severe hiding by his dad and this whole incident culminated in being disowned by his father – which actually made life a lot easier – although it happened at the same time his sister was born, and was hospitalised (nearly dying) with me as back up for a month, and this his grandmother appearing from NZ to be the home coordinator, whilst I was in hospital trying to keep her alive..

In between there had been at home the advent of my second child – a baby brother whose father (his step father) played off against him.  Then on top of the entire step-parenting horror on his dad’s side we had the birth of a massively brain injured sister. He was expected to pull his weight, as the majority of the patterning had to be done before he went to school and when he came home .. . .what else do you do?  All hands on deck . . . .The difference in our family was that we had the answer – just not the funds or the staff that would be provided gratis if it were a body part – not the computer down in her head. So he was a very busy person – leaving his childhood well behind at this point.

With his mother severely challenged to stay on the planet with what then transpired, the ball was dropped for Sean and his education.  The first male teacher (in his 6th year of schooling) he had ever had turned into the worst mistake ever – a fact that escaped me til the following year.  He had actually asked me could he go to another school as it was so bad – and we counted the days down together before the school holidays.

After about a month into the next year, the principle had to bring all parents in to discuss the issues they were having with the girls not saying a word in class because of the teacher Sean had had the year before – and all manner of parents were coming up to tell me how they had gone in to bat on his behalf – and wasn’t it dreadful what the teacher had done?  He had been parading Sean up in front of the class and getting everyone to jeer at him in the hope it would sort him out.

For the first time in his life (with the help of the Irlen lenses) he was able to follow ball games – and had been punished by now being in the ‘away’ sport teams . . . and being made to sit it all out . . .  I had spent all his schooling to date trying to get him out of the library and into boys’ play – to have this happen was awful.  (And with the head teacher’s permission – what were they thinking?) Sean had thought to keep it quiet as mum had enough going on with his sister nearly dying and being in such a mess . . .

Life continued with his sister’s brain injury recovery and trying to keep her alive as the major focus – what was happening for the boys was just on automatic.  Schooling for Sean, previously earmarked for a new private church run co-ed independent school was shelved and the local high school was where he went.  He discovered that doing nothing was easy – as he was less of a nerd if he didn’t try – so all through that early time at secondary school, he just keeping the seat warm.  There was quite enough going on at home to keep him occupied.

Sometime later, his father kicked the new wife out and wanted his son back.  A whole new set of problems – how to possibly call it a schooling problem, when the kid is trying to make sense of his inner and outer life? Emotional survival . . . and by now mum’s second marriage gone and so a difficult step dad replaced by nothing but more responsibility.

High school – I wonder why there seems to be no home work, and surely exams are pressing?  Apparently he can keep up (I am still horrified to find that streaming no longer happens and thus at the time of writing, his youngest brother, my last very bright kid, 18 years later, is in with those who need real help in basics – he can sit in the middle and not be so much noticed – not shining, just being there.  Sean’s first real friendship happened – and eventually his domestic life got in the way again – this time his dad started talking of wanting him there full time with him.

Eventually he moved up to Beechmere where there is a bus to take him to Caboolture Hugh School.  Heaven knows what happened academically – as dad was now a member of an apocalyptic religion – the world is ending in a couple of years and there WAS no point in getting an education.  I managed to fudge his dates for visiting me in NZ and returning home, over the school holidays, so it was too late to get a full time job, so he managed to finish high school.

Concurrently – son number two was also going through the education system – he started primary school the day Sean started high school. 

JOSH

Was 17 days too old to start school in that 5 year old intake, when he was really very school-ready.  He had been advanced in every way possible by me – as Sean was great path to not follow.  I had used every trick I was performing on Kathryn to ensure her brother was not going down the path Sean had.  I had the younger son doing all the proprioceptive, balancing, reading and maths enhancement programmes.  He was also at a very good preschool/child care system for three years – as he needed time out from the house full of volunteers and mum totally distracted fixing his sister’s massive brain injury.

School was very uneventful – or I was so tied up in trying to cope with Kathryn not sleeping and being advanced in all ways possible that Josh tried very hard to make sure nothing happened in his life that influenced me to worry – so I have no real memories of anything in his schooling. He just went and came home and did everything expected.

At nearly 11, I became accidentally pregnant and eventually found that more services were available for parents with very damaged kids in my home country, so when Josh was in the middle of primary school, we shifted there.  This meant that he tasted a very different culture.  He was still far too bright, but fitted in immediately – as the bright, sporty, popular one. He really bloomed.  He still had the home life where he was trying to help mum as much as possible.  Often after his baby brother was born, he was the one getting up in the night changing nappies and feeding his sister as he knew I had to sleep to look after and feed him. This meant that occasionally he was too tired to go to school – and if it were manual arts or Maori = he was going regardless as neither subject was offered in Australia and he really loved both.  School days were great – he felt challenged, there was a programme to start musical kids for when they started in the feeder high school, he was in extension classes, popular and happy.

BUT . . .. .

I decided to go back to Australia to try to make things work for the baby Ryan and his dad so Josh was sent over to his father in Perth.  Big mistake.  The schooling was a very separate issue to the father being not ready to be there for him.  This eventually meant Josh walked out of the high school, with all the counsellors’ blessing.  They were ready to get a foster family for him by then.  In the meantime, at school, he was taunted as being a dictionary as he knew everything.  Again we had no streaming in high school; again I had a very bright boy just coping.  Very unhappy in his domestic life – how could he possibly learn and be useful socially?

He apparently was beaten up a lot and just used to wait till they had finished and then asked them if they ‘were done yet?’ – he did not react, but kept everything inside.  One night when 16 he rang me up to ask if my offer was still on – and we organised him out of his life with his father without his knowledge – he just arrived home one night to an empty house.  This was totally assisted by the teachers – who realised that that toxic environment was slowly destroying Josh.  Forget about what was happening in school academically . .. .

So – there I was in the middle of the country, commuting to work a few days a week.  Not set up at all for a high school student. I found the best of the local ones, he started and here it was all on again.

School finished on Wednesday lunch time for those in the 11th grade (out of 12) as that was work practice time – and it became no work on Wednesday at all when he was a year up.  I discovered no homework again – and he was just biding time.

I found the school I had wanted Sean to go to all those years before, and although it was supposedly too hard with no places spare – everyone wanted their kids there, they offered him a place and there he was – a private church run co-ed school which valued the whole person.  At least they kept the kids very busy, had a bent on service, had an hour pastoral care period when school started EVERY morning, and were not just (but better at ) about academic work.

He made lots of female friends, and got to be ‘a legend’ as he was the only one NOT doing binge drinking and drugs.  This continued up until he left school – and he as like the older brother who got them all safely home when at Schoolies – the rite of passage on the Gold Coast later at the end of schooling

I was stunned at the volume of alcohol supplied by the private school kids he was mixing with from the other schools Brisbane (all supposedly the best).

This really shaped the last few years he was there – being bored with having to clean up and look after all the girls who were just wiping themselves out.  He chose to go in to uni. That was not a success as he kept the same attitude – would work if the subject interested him /he could see the point – otherwise he was just on the social fringes – he changed schools too often (3 primary and 3 secondary) and I only found the better ones when his life was already taking him in other directions. So schooling was really a matter of marking time.  At uni he sat the exams – and got the lowest mark for one subject, a not quite pass for two and a brilliant for the one he enjoyed. So that was uni over with.

What did I learn from all of this?

Where a kid is within himself is the measure of whether he wins in the schooling system – and even with the most co operative and helpful school staff, the survival issues running under the surface over-ride whatever content and structure they can supply.

Thus is not to say that I could see how either son benefited from going to school – the combination of no streaming and being very bright and bored meant that neither really learnt habits of industry or inner discipline.  Possibly all this would have been very different for Josh had I stayed in NZ and had him go to the high school I had been through – he was very definitely there a happy and accepted person – which never happened again within the Australian culture – being too bright never worked for either of them. 

KATHRYN

Having a kid with essentially a very broken brain, I was not backwards in trying to locate services – had she a broken leg (not so much of importance actually as  a broken brain),  it all would have been laid on free at the hospital – as she had a closed brain injury, ‘wait and see’ was the only therapy going.  Except that I had been told that she would die she was so damaged- it was just a matter of when

Initially (around 9 months of age) I went off with her to the special school early intervention programmes – in two centres – I managed to convince them that she needed to go to the visually impaired unit in addition to the local general one.  From here I realised that she was almost blind – and watching what they were trying to do to aid the kids was ridiculous.  I really saw how if the mothers were let loose there would have been a much better use of resources.  We stopped going to either of these after a year when we were totally immersed in recovering her function within the house four walls with volunteers doing the Domann programme of neurological reorganisation.

From doing this for several years, I learnt a great deal about myself and also brain injury recovery.  Kathryn was essentially at school every minute of her life. I was a woman in motion for most of the hours of a day.  She was loved to do every small thing that she was supposed to be incapable of doing.  Nothing else went on without her programme – masking, cross patterning with volunteers, rolling, crawling (often  2 km in the house a day), the intelligence cards, the sensory programmes and all – a full 18 hours of work in addition to running a household, getting the other two off to school, homework done and all the trappings of washing/cooking etc.

Schooling as paid for by the state – as opposed to us using very committed helpers and all our resources on our daughter – started when I went to the local preschool and found I could inveigle a full time teaches’ aid for her every afternoon a week – and so Kathryn discovered socialising with her peers.

I am not convinced she noticed them. They, on the other hand were being exposed to and enriched by the new state government inclusion policies.  One day I went to drop her off and the head teacher came out to assure me not to worry – and that everything was being taken care of – the state education minister was coming to a meeting with all concerned parents the next night!!

I had absolutely no idea what was happening.  Apparently one of the parents was very disturbed about the presence of my daughter in her daughter’s preschool.  She had been trying to get a petition signed to get Kathryn removed.  She did not know that her daughter was actually fascinated with Kathryn and spent all afternoon following her around watching and trying to make friends with her (bit difficult when the other person is highly autistic).  She was offered a morning programme so her child was not exposed – but she really wanted Kathryn out in her place.

What she did not know was that one of the parents she approached was also the mother of the first child in Queensland to go to a local primary school whilst profoundly deaf.  She had fought tooth and nail to get her daughter recognised as a full person and that particular parent took exception to anyone seeing my daughter as anything other than a whole person worth all effort possible.  So here we were having a minister explaining the policy – the head teacher and the aide (both of whom adored my daughter as she was very personable for all her handicaps) had no say in whether she was there or not – it was government policy!!!

Kathryn seemed to do very well there.  I also started her at the local special school. This happened as I could see that the time for inclusion was now – I had done all I could with closed brain surgery – and now we really need professionals to extend what was there.  This was aided by Kathryn being so cute.  Mute also, but very able to get her needs met.  Her special school teacher also absolutely adored her and took her under her wing.  All the teaching that had happened disappeared as for the next few decades; all anyone wanted to do with her was get her out of nappies.  (This is a silly chapter in my life – the two ends of the education spectrum).

She also was starting to have really bad seizures, so was often too distressed – leading up to and after one – so she was then looked after by all.  In addition to what was (not) happening at school, I also had Kathryn’s teacher’s aide trained up in facilitated communication.  She was able to use the computer interactive screens in literacy programmes better than the normal children – recognising a big ‘E’ goes with a little ‘e’ etc.

She had a set of special developmental lenses glasses to allow her to concentrate her very good peripheral vision (she started with cortical blindness but there was a lot of success in the several years I was a prisoner in my own home rescuing my daughter’s brain/life).  She was having auditory retraining initially with headphones on at least 4 hours daily, and then we took her for the groups of personalised sessions in two lots – at great cost and reward.  There were so many other things I discovered (all before the Internet) and trialled – and nothing did nothing.  Also very few if any were condoned let alone known about any the mainstream educators and specialists – medical and developmental.

There was a lot that was lost whilst all involved in her ‘education’ in the next years all seemed to have the same idea – get her toilet trained then start on what they had as a curriculum – do not pass ‘go’ till all attended to.  Unfortunately this orderliness has lead to Kathryn losing all she had back at the beginning – but that is not the point of this chapter.

More important is the need for what is in front of those who work – at any level – to recognise everyone is different and we all learn at different rates and in different ways.  They all ‘had’ to get her to do it in the order they saw as being important.

Eventually she went to special school all of the day. I left to go to NZ and she was then placed where the head of special schooling thought would be good for her.  Although she was non-verbal she was very able to get her needs met – and the new school didn’t fill her with joy.  He was aghast that I would know this – she used to be bouncy and happy to get in the car in the mornings – not so now.  I changed her school and this was to be her Bedlam for the next ten years.  Along the way, the accidental baby emerged, and Kathryn was handed over to the foster care system (I found who appeared to be a great match) and she was left at the mercy of standard care from what she had been used to, as I tried to give the last child what the others had not had – a stable and loving intact home.

RYAN

Arrived, was loved – and I decided to try to make it work with his father, so I left NZ and returned  – to discover that it was not possible to be with him and I had no infrastructure or resources.  After 6 months, I moved house into where my oldest son and I would try to get ourselves both together – and from there eventually went back part time to work – rebuilding my life.  Ryan thrived with all the extra attention I found for him as I worked part time . . . . life went by and then his father decided that he as his property and wanted to retrieve him.

Thus I gave my youngest away as though he was being adopted by his dad – I was not sure if his father was capable of being reasonable and feared for all of our lives – some women do get killed in these situations – and I knew him well enough to wonder if we were next.  I felt very much in danger and he felt so strongly about his property that I allowed him to be taken away and I signed all rights away at the at time.

This meant that schooling as with everything happened as his father dictated.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, his preschool teacher was one of my patients.  Ryan’s life would have been so different had we known (we discovered this when he was 3 years into schooling – and not coping).  She was trying to keep him back a year to be with his age mates.  He was legally allowed to go to school the following year – so at a few months more than 5 years old he started school.  A very broken and hurting little boy who had to grow up far too quickly.

She was a lone voice.  I had done this with Sean, his older brother, and tried to explain this to Ryan’s dad, but he considered that he was the expert and the head master thought it would only take a few months and Ryan would adjust.  His father wanted his life to be easier as it was when he went to school – so go to school he did – very immature. Bright and not special in his dad’s life, not allowed to be in his mum’s.   Intelligent though Ryan was/is, he was also extremely disturbed through being so separated from his mother.  This in addition to his food sensitivities (unnoticed by his dad) and the asthma (from being exposed to dust in vast quantities in his father’s seven day a week work) meant that Ryan struggled.  There was no time for him and he just waited about all his life.

His social life was undeveloped as his dad had to work all of every day and there was no time for sleepovers and exchanges with the mothers.  This also meant that Ryan spent most of his time at school getting into trouble.  He was forever being ‘diagnosed’ by teachers as having ADD – and eventually his dad was so fed up with this that he called a barrister in to straighten the teachers out . . . Ryan got none of the specialist care he needed and the school system had him go through a year too soon as though it ‘would come out in the wash’.

Eventually when I started seeing him every weekend in the last term of his primary schooling (I had come back to Australia to go through Family Law Court to allow Ryan to even talk to me as his father was refusing all contact as Ryan had decided he wanted to live with Duncan (new step dad) and me.  I was also awarded through the week time; he became a more rounded person, and FINALLY settled down in school).

He had been through all sorts of traumas with his dad and finally dad had decided to send him off to live with me – now resident in NZ.

New Zealand bridging year.  As Ryan was a year ahead of his age mates – who in NZ have an 8 year primary system starting at 5 years old – we decided to have him as a gap year.  We knew no better (thinking all schools are equal . . . .  ) and sent him off to the local one – only 30 in the whole school – we thought we would be winning – well no one told us that that teacher/school had received adverse reviews for the previous few years.

This meant Ryan reread fiction books as he had nothing to learn – as he was so far ahead having changed school systems and being as bright as he was.  We started to see really disturbed behaviour in Ryan and tried, through what they had as resource teachers, to try to help him.  Eventually we discovered that the school was not the best place for anyone interested in learning, so another 40 minutes down the road on the school bus one way took him to yet another primary school.

This time we had a better class of school/teacher – but still the same issue – Ryan was well ahead of what was being taught.  He was not included in the extension programme as the teacher was having issues with his attitude.  Teacher saw Ryan being in extension classes as a reward – and he was not deserving of being extended UNTIL the behaviour cleared up. Very happy to have all the activities that filled up the non school time – what a credit to his step father!!  But how was Ryan supposed to learn how to learn?

This all meant that Ryan just played up more.  It got attention . . .

Life continued until we moved back to where we had a house not selling – and this school was then a nearly 200 Km return trip daily out of the way.  We had thought we could join him up for the correspondence school, we started the arrangements but it took till week 5 of that last term for them to tell us that they only signed students up for half a year or more.

Ryan then was having a real gap year – no school at all – he continued with all the sports and other activities – but no formal education as such. Duncan found various high school biology, maths and physics texts, and that kept him amused.  I took him off for a cultural emersion trip in Samoa where a friend lived.  He spent two weeks there altogether – a week just leaning the Samoan language and way of life.

High school beckoned.  We had chosen a small new co-ed Catholic one four hours away.  We did not want Ryan to be tied up with the kids and culture where we had chosen to live before we were given Ryan to raise.  This started off with a year at boarding and we are now in the first year of having live with his step dad in the adjoining suburb, whilst I a funding it all in another country.

Is it working?
Again – no streaming.

What is to become of our bright kids?
He tells me that he is bored and it is excruciating to have to go to school as in all subjects he is still ahead of where he left primary school.  He has sat through two years now of being told adverbs and verbs. He wondered if they thought kids forgot everything over the holidays . ..  Life is just not how it was when I was at high school – I remember several hours a night home study.  This just is not happening – just as it didn’t for his other bright brothers.

I am all too aware of his problem with authority – especially that of women.  What is thus lost with the lack of intellectual stimulation is any likelihood of his learning to fit in.  He already has a hypoglycaemic/ADD like response to things – which would not endear him to teachers who have all that variety of student response to try to keep amused in class.  Where is there within him any respect for learning or authority?

How would it have developed with the too early start and the continual loss we feel in the education provider’s attention to the average/norm? There is also no self discipline or thrill of getting stuff done – problem solving is now ‘how can I get out of doing all the extra behavioural think sheets?’ etc

The state of boredom for bright boys has been the theme for all my boys.  They were all read to, read an speak very well and early – they all start very interested in learning/life and end up sidelined – so where is the answer – the other chapters fill in this question – with more of their own.

My boys are not perfect nor that bright – so where are we going as a culture when someone so keen to learn ends up so unhappy ???? – Next comes . .  .?

Comments are closed.