Thursday, January 26, 2012

"But he has such lovely manners": Not Eating My Hat Yet

On the first day of kindergarten "settling-in" period, all seemed to go unexpectedly well. I almost wrote a post titled "Eating My Hat," so helpful and chirpy seemed the staff. I was particularly impressed - again - by the kindergarten manager, who took great trouble to get to know my son, pointing out several developmental features that his former school had missed. All seemed hunky-dory. Don't be too pessimistic, I thought.

But I'm glad I didn't ACTUALLY eat my hat, because the very self-important teacher who had given me such a hard time about my son still being in nappies had not finished her work of spreading alarm and despondency yet. Today came over for a chat to me today. She pointed at my youngest son. Who is gorgeous, and has amazing visual and spatial skills. And spends most of his time at home wandering around with a toy hammer, shouting "amma!" and banging everything he can find. Unsurprisingly, he was fascinated by the hammer and nails on the woodbench, and had spent most of the morning holding a hammer and trying to bang, a task that we had all noted he was managing extremely well.

"He's very advanced for his age," she said to me. "Yes, he's good at that," I said, absent-mindedly - I had found a Maori picture dictionary, and was passing the time trying to learn a few words - I can't remember what she said next, but it was something else complimentary about my son, and she said it quite aggressively. This made me look up. "Yes," I said, laughing "of course the difficulty we have is getting him to do anything that isn't his own agenda."
"He's two," she said, "for goodness sake." I looked at her oddly. "You do know he has a working diagnosis of autism?"
"Yes, and I would challenge that," she said flatly, "because he held my hand when I wanted him to."
Oh God, I am in one of THOSE conversations. "Right," I said, non-committally, hoping for an escape route.
"And [she named my oldest son, who was leaping around the climbing frame in bliss at having something to do that wasn't just hanging out with Mum] He has such lovely manners, I mean the best manners I have seen."
Yes, thank you. I am a good parent, I have taught him to behave. Oh, and he has ASD which means that he remembers social rules very well when they are clear and literal, like always ask adults nicely for things. It's actually slightly symptomatic, that he is so extremely polite. I didn't say that, of course, because I could tell what was coming next.
"I just think he's very very bright. I mean I think he's bordering on being a bit of a genius really. The things he knows. And he's very affectionate. I don't think there's anything wrong with him."
There were so many ways I could have challenged this. Perhaps I could have started by saying that in essence I agreed, that I think "wrong" is an unhelpful term to use for many HF ASD kids because it is more that their brains are developing differently and that they need some help in specific areas as the grow, rather than that they are unlikely to lead independent adult lives (the practical longterm definition of intellectual disaiblity as opposed to delay, I always think). Perhaps I could have pointed out that Einstein was a good example of someone who was both bright and autistic, and that the two designations weren't mutually incompatible. I could have done what I in fact did, point out that the idea of affection and ASD being incompatible is a mistaken one. Or I could have finally done what I have always longed to when the ignorant come out with guff like this, ask her if she knew of a really nice big cliff locally, because I was more than happy to help her take a running jump. But really, it didn't matter what I said, because she would have not listened to a word anyway. I was a BAD PARENT and I was WRONG about my sons. (And the community paediatrician and the consultant and the speech therapist and the OT, of course. And my eldest's last school. And his Beavers pack. Yes, we were all WRONG).
She broke into my explanation with "You see, I am very experienced, and I have taught a lot of kids, and do you know, I don't like labels, that label will follow them around all their lives, and - "
Fortunately at that moment another parent wanted her attention.

So I am caught between a rock and a hard place. I am incredibly tempted to send him elsewhere. Such prejudice about labelling would normally spell doom to any chance of a successful working relationship. But actually, I reasoned, I don't have to have a relationship with her at all. She's only one of three teachers, she isn't the manager - and the manager seems to me to be superb. Also - her concerns were about my other two sons - the ones who WON'T be going to her kindergarten. It's sort of irrelevant to my middle son, who doesn't have a diagnosis of ASD, but global developmental delay and verbal dyspraxia, and we are keen to keep it that way unless his steady progress towards neurotypical speech and behaviour falters. So really, her strictures about diagnosis and labelling are quite irrelevant here.
At the same time I felt it was impossible to do nothing. So I called up this afternoon and complained. I didn't quite "complain," I said that I had a concern, and that things were obviously very different in New Zealand but that in the UK I would not have expected a nursery teacher to feel sufficiently qualified to make that kind of sweeping judgement on my other children. (Sometimes it is quite useful to be foreign) Could I therefore ask that any future issues of this kind were raised with me via the manager?

Manager was clearly sympathetic and eager to reassure me that this would be fine, so I am taking a deep breath, taking into account the fact that my middle son clearly LOVES the kindy and can't wait to go again, and giving it one more chance.

Will this be the turning of the tide, or am I like the frog, slowly being boiled in water and reassuring myself that it's not too hot yet?


  1. Yes complete stranger who has known and seen my children for all of five minutes, of course you must be right.

  2. How infuriating!

    Do you have to remind your eldest every time to use his good manners? I do with mine, and feel like by now she should have that down of her own accord. Obviously I am a crap parent!

    Back to the subject. It's only 6 months that #2 son needs to be there before he moves to the infant school (or whatever they call them in NZ), isn't it? If you can stick that out, will be so much better than pressuring yourself to find somewhere else (which might take several weeks anyway, esp. as you seem unconvinced re: Barnardos, which is the next option you've mentioned). Are you thinking of somewhere different for #3 son next year?

    And yes - it can be really useful being foreign! I still play it for all its worth sometimes. When I need to.

  3. No, I don't have to, he does it automatically (although not to me, I reassure you!)

    Yes I am inclined to wait and see what happens next. But yes absolutely, I will look elsewhere for number 3.

  4. Oh you have my empathy and sympathy.

    I've come accros a few 'well meaning' nursery staff myself, certain nursery worker's couldn't resist sharing their opinions of my child with me.

    One lady, as soon as she found out I had a son with GDD and ASD decided she was sure my daughter also had learning difficulties too. My daughter is now 12 and she most definitely doesn't. At the time though this lady really made me start to doubt myself and I spent many a sleepless night wondering if she might be right, if she saw something about my daughter I was missing etc.

    Over the years I've developed a hole in my tongue from biting it ;-)

    I don't have any helpful advice as all I did was stuck it out and avoided certain people like the plauge (bit cowardly I know).

    I hope thing's get better there for you, at least your son seems to enjoy it like you say and that's a good thing :-)