Our local authority does not provide any specialist education for children like Joe who are high functioning autistic. Two months after his exclusion from secondary school it had become clear Joe would not be able to go back into a mainstream school for many reasons, and that tutors were not a long term option. A privately run school was identified eventually by Children’s Services, but we were told there were no day places, only residential ones. If we wanted a place for Joe at the school, he would have to go and live there. We would, voluntarily, have to put him into care – allow him to be ‘looked after’ by Social Services.
Writing this I am shaking and tears are splashing onto my keyboard. All these things happened more than a year ago now, but the pain has not eased. The anger at the system has not diminished, the loss I feel will not go away. We were faced by an impossible decision. Although Joe’s permanent exclusion was eventually rescinded, the schools offer to teach him in a room separate from the other children, by video link, never to be allowed to mix with his peers even at break times, seemed more of a sentence, than a solution. Another attempt to move into a different mainstream school would carry the risk of a similar failure – not because of Joe, but because there was no way to guarantee Joe would be shielded from those teachers and pupils who were unable, for whatever reason, to make the necessary adaptions for his autism. Teaching Joe at home carried massive implications for the family, and ultimately, it wouldn’t be helping Joe. I couldn’t provide a science lab, or a DT room, and although I could deal with the science and maths lessons, I couldn’t give him a balanced curriculum. However, more important than all of that was the lack of peers and social interaction inherent in being home educated. Joe needed to learn strategies to manage his physical aggression, and the stress that social interaction generated within him, before it was too late. The Police had made the decision that the charge of assault against Joe by his teacher would be dropped, (the phone call from the Police Sergeant who told me, and went on to say they’d decided it wasn’t his fault, he was autistic for goodness sake, left me sobbing in a shaking heap of relief on the stairs), but next time Joe might not be so lucky. We had to face the fact that we would have to keep Joe away from mainstream not in order to keep society safe from Joe, but in order that Joe could be kept safe from society for long enough that he could learn to cope in it.
Throughout the time we were ripping ourselves to pieces trying to reconcile our hopes for our family with what we might be forced to do, a further pressure bore down on us. The school in question was not too far away from where we lived, (though for me, every metre felt like tens of miles). Places at this school only came up every now and then because of its size. If we missed the boat and we lost the place, but then further down the road we had to opt for a special residential school anyway, Joe could end up counties away. In the end it all seemed to boil down to four alternatives:
- We put Joe back in the school he had been excluded from, effectively under house arrest.
- We tried Joe in another mainstream school with the potential of another break down, further trauma for Joe and Police involvement.
- Home education which would not provide for Joes needs, and would put unbearable pressure on the whole family.
- Break up our family, allow Joe to be a ‘looked after child’ and put him into a residential placement where he had the opportunity to make academic progress, and more importantly, learn coping strategies for life.
We went with option four – it was not a ‘choice’.
I don’t think people believed me when I told them I was going up the wood to hit things. I really was. I would get my hatchet and chop the living daylights out of a log. The tears would not stop. They poured out of my eyes, silently, without me even realising it. I had fought for my child for nearly thirteen years, from the moment I was told in the maternity unit that during the night, he had been given the prize for the most badly behaved baby on the ward. I had fought for his right to have his condition recognised and supported, fought for his right to be accepted. I had given my all to holding my family together, poured my heart and my soul into building a life that took autism for granted, where it was seen as as a thing that was just taken into account like my migraines, Peta’s eczema. I was determined it was not going to be obstacle. But I had lost. I had failed. I was naive in the belief that I could do this.
I went to the woods for support. Those trees have seen so many years, the insignificance of man. Yews stood, solid, unyielding bringing perspective. I vented frustration on birch branches, releasing the trapped spoons from within using hatchet and knife. I kicked trees, watched nature… while my soul shattered.