As I may have said before, Matthew exhibits many characteristics that would be considered typical for an ASD child. He finds it hard to communicate his feelings, can’t read feelings of others, finds it hard to comprehend why others behave in the way they do to him. So, if he can’t tell us directly, how are we meant to help him? He doesn’t possess the guile and self defence mechanisms that would allow the rest of us to be able to look after ourselves.
But Matthew doesn’t have the ability to conceal when things aren’t going well for him. He exhibits lots of behaviours that give the game away that things aren’t right. Even then, his difficulty in communicating with us how he’s feeling can make it hard to get the full story from him. He’s awful at lying, but is equally poor at imparting full information. He won’t volunteer you any information, so you need to ask just the right questions to get the story out, although he can still leave some of the story out.
However, one of Matthew’s giveaways that he’s having problems with something at school is his nervous cough. When he feels under stress, or is worried about something, then he will suddenly develop a hacking cough. Last week, he found out that his current teacher was leaving (see http://theworldofneil.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/routine-disrupted-again/ for the gory details!) On Friday, he didn’t seem that bothered, despite the fact that some of his classmates were in tears at the news. We’d assumed that he’d had so many teachers that he had grown accustomed to it, so let it slide. He was fine on Saturday, but come Sunday afternoon, a cough had developed. He seemed well though, but the cough persisted. When he went to bed, it got worse until eventually (and unsurprisingly) he came running along the upstairs landing to the bathroom to be sick.
Now, in the event of sickness – particularly where it may be contagious, the school has implemented a 48-hour rule on it (have a look at http://basijas2013.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/the-48-hour-rule/) which Matthew knows well. When he came out of the bathroom he announced he’d be off for 2 days. As believers in the rule, we agreed. But within minutes of being sick, Matthew seemed perfectly fine. On Monday and Tuesday, you’d not know that this was a boy that was supposed to be sick. I think that’s because he wasn’t. He had said he’d be going back to school on Wednesday, so it all looked fine. But late yesterday afternoon, the coughing started. And got worse. As has happened so many times before, he eventually got out of bed, ran for the bathroom and was sick. Last night he was quite proud of the fact he’d be off for two days. Finally, it became clear – Matthew was deliberately making himself sick as he knew it would get him off school for two days. It all seemed to fit – was he worried about another change of teacher, but didn’t know how to vocalise that so he took himself out of the situation?
Not quite. Jane & I talked with him last night after he’d been sick. The stream of questions needed to get the story out continued, until Matthew finally admitted what was going on. Matthew goes to a “Lego Club” on Tuesday and Friday at school during the lunch break. After being bullied by a boy in the school, we’d started taking him home for lunch again, but were happy for him to continue at Lego Club, as it was a supervised activity. But a few weeks ago, he said a P7 boy had kicked him hard enough to cause a fair degree of pain. Two boys reported the perpetrator, and was told “something would be done.” Turns out, it wasn’t, and the same boy was continuing to harass him. Matthew obviously had no faith in the school being able to protect him, so took direct action to remove himself from harm’s way. If he could be sick, then he’d be off school. If he was off school, then the bully couldn’t get at him.
Despite the 48 hour rule, Jane took him to school today, as it was clear the sickness wasn’t down to a contagious bug, but was as a result of stress induced vomiting. His teacher was shocked that a 7-year old could do this. She promised action this time. Matthew’s current teacher is a no nonsense character who follows through on promises. She told Jane she had an idea who it was, and said she’d take Matthew through to point him out. At lunchtime, she came out to speak to Jane and said she’d spoken to the boy (who admitted it all), his teacher and the Head Teacher. At last Matthew saw that an authority figure who should be protecting him had followed through on a promise to do so.
We think it has settled Matthew, as there is no coughing today. But its disappointing that despite him being told on a number of occasions that his antagonists were being dealt with, nothing was done. Matthew is very vulnerable, and special needs children are soft targets for bullies, and we feel that no cognisance is being taken of that fact. He’s being left to look after himself, when we know he hasn’t the first clue as to how to do that. He’s incapable of looking after himself, like most ASD kids, and is reliant on others to do so. When that doesn’t happen, he’ll take alternative action to get himself away from it all. It harms his education. Maybe now they’ll listen. We live in hope.