Not Fine In School. Week 5.
Do you know any children who are not ‘fine’ in school? Welcome to Week 5 of sharing experiences from families whose children have NOT been fine in school. So many people have contacted me, keen to tell their stories, but we all know there are so many more who simply cannot write about what has happened to them. That might be because they are too broken, too busy fighting for the right school still or just don’t want to relive the terrible, stressful nightmare of trying to force their child into school.
School is a great place when it is suitable for the child. So many factors can play a part in an educational setting not being right and not meeting the needs of certain children. There’s no point hiding from this and simply threatening attendance fines. A lot of work needs to be done to make sure that every child is being given the opportunity to learn.
Earlier this week I saw the following illustration on social media and I knew it would be perfect for this series. So many parents are judged and penalised for not being able to get their child to school, but it would be nice if those behind the judging could see what goes on behind the scenes. Very few parents sit back and say to their child ‘oh it’s OK if you don’t go to school, school doesn’t matter’. Some recognition and understanding of the effort which goes in to trying to make school or education happen for these children would be nice….
I posted ‘Bad Morning’ this week and it received the most engagement of anything I have drawn to date.
Personally I think I have drawn funnier, much more clever insights into our education system and how it approaches neurodiversity, but hey ho.
So I’ve been thinking about why so many people had so much to say about it and it is because I think it says it all.
While I draw all the elements of having a child who can’t go to school- the meetings, the EHCP process, the laminated sheets to ‘support’ our children.
‘Bad Morning’ answers the question, the bit that few outside the family see or despite our explanations really truly understand.
“Can’t you just make them go?”
And I wanted to show that they can’t, often they very much want to, but they can’t.
This is how we begin and end our days with our children trying (and they really are trying) to go to school.
As families we have explored everything to help our children to manage to go to school and yet the pressure and the anxiety of the school day are overwhelming for them.
This leads to enormous guilt on our part as we have failed to achieve one of the most basic parenting exercises- to get our children to school (we are also appalling at any textbook bedtimes too, in case you need to know).
So we live for many years as parents, as mothers, as women, feeling the guilt and judgement that we have failed.
We lose friendships and family who struggle to understand, our relationships become consumed by this, our careers often end, as we cannot manage it all.
Professionals have given us their suggestions and this doesn’t work either, so they sigh and start the process of suggestions again “have you tried a visual timetable?” “Have you tried a routine before bed?”
And all of this, the pressure to ‘just get them to school’ falls on us, the parents.
Because when this is achievable for so many, why not us?
So even though this was one of the illustrations I drew a while ago it was this week when the government pumped out another simplistic, populist statement to the press on attendance that I wanted to show the reality for so many families every morning.
This is not a choice; this is misery and stress for years and years (in our case eight years) for our children and us. Eight years of mornings of extreme stress, crying, fear, anger, despair. With evenings after school equally fraught and usually sleep deprived. So we have meetings and head tilts and parenting courses.
“Why don’t they like school?”
Until one or both of us eventually break and we can’t do it anymore.
So we end up at home, for a long time while we repair and restore the toll this has taken on our mental health.
But that’s a whole bunch of other illustrations..
Thank you for reading; please do show your support by visiting the Missing the Mark blog. For more fantastic illustrations, you can pre-order the book ‘The Family Experience of PDA: An Illustrated Guide to Pathological Demand Avoidance’ now (this will be published on 18 November 2021)*.
It really helps if you can share any posts in this series on social media to help spread the message further. Over the coming weeks there will be more examples of families being failed by the system. They won’t all be exactly the same as this one but they will all share common themes.
For any parents and carers needing help right now, I highly recommend the incredibly helpful Not Fine In School website (notfineinschool.co.uk). There are many supporters behind the scenes and in the linked Facebook group who have been through difficult times during the school years. Plenty of knowledge is being shared which could make a real difference to other families. If the system is not fit for purpose we need to shout that out loud.
For those keen to help make a difference, I also suggest looking up Square Peg. They are making great strides in terms of raising awareness across different media formats and also with legal challenges around attendance policies.
If you feel able to share your family’s ‘not fine in school’ experience please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I understand how difficult it can be for families to talk about this topic and for some there will be a need to stay anonymous, which is totally fine. But this issue of the outdated, failing system is huge and should not be brushed under the carpet any more.
For the other weeks in this series please click the links below:
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For more information about PDA, please read any of the books in my post
Books about the Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) profile of autism
To find out more about our experiences, please check out our ‘About Us’ page or the summary of our experience in Our PDA Story Week 35. If you are looking for more online reading about Pathological Demand Avoidance, the posts below may help.
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