Yesterday morning Katie did not want to go to school. This is nothing unusual but I asked her if there was anything particular that was bothering her and she said one of the boys in her class had told the teacher she was bullying him. I asked if he had any reason to say that, and she said she had pushed him because he was really annoying. I asked what he did that she found so annoying and she didn’t really answer, just kept saying he was too annoying. Her teacher had spoken to the class and said she expected whoever had pushed this boy to own up to it. Katie thinks her teacher knows it was her anyway.
I found this situation really hard to deal with. I don’t like to think of Katie or any of my children pushing other kids because it’s not nice and it’s not necessary. This boy in Katie’s class is obviously pretty upset by it to be telling her she’s bullying him. We have always taught our three that they should never get physical with other kids and that if someone is pushing them, or saying unkind things to them, or whatever the situation is, that they shouldn’t do it back. We have encouraged them to walk away from the situation, or if they need help dealing with it to talk to us / a trusted adult / a friend. I made it very clear to Katie that she should not have pushed the boy in her class.
I can never quite tell with Katie’s vocabulary whether she just doesn’t want to expand on things or if she literally can’t. I was trying to work out why she felt this kid was so annoying and whether he has been winding her up on purpose or whether he isn’t deliberately doing anything but Katie just objects to him for some reason – not that it matters really as she still shouldn’t have pushed him, but it would be useful to be able to put it into context a bit more. But she just repeats herself that he was annoying her and can’t / won’t give more detail. I think she feels he deserved to be pushed because he shouldn’t have annoyed her, but I’m not sure and may well be doing her a disservice by putting words into her mouth.
Firstly I encouraged Katie to tell the boy she pushed that she was sorry for pushing him, but even here I’m not sure this was the right thing. I told her she doesn’t have to be sorry that she doesn’t like him, or that she finds him annoying, or that she doesn’t want to speak to him – those things are all her opinions and that’s fine. But she shouldn’t push him because of any of those things. The problem here is that saying sorry suggests you understand that what you did was wrong and you want to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and I’m not sure Katie does. All she sees is that this boy was bugging her and she pushed him. She knows what she did was wrong because she knows she shouldn’t push, but I’m not sure she’s sorry she did it so should she say sorry to him just because that’s the expectation, or should she not say it if she doesn’t mean it?
We talked about feeling frustrated or angry with someone and that she needs to find other ways to let those emotions out that don’t include physical aggression. She said this happened in the playground so I suggested if she’s angry in the playground she stamps her feet / goes off and yells / jumps up and down / anything else she can think of. If she’s angry in the classroom maybe she could ask to leave the room / focus on breathing / distract herself with fiddle toys.
I also encouraged her to own up to her teacher and tell her she was the one who pushed this boy. Katie said she was scared to tell her and we definitely find that when she’s upset or stressed her words can fail her and she totally clams up. So I said she could write a note to her teacher and if she couldn’t talk to her she could give her the note so she had a back up option.
Other than emphasise that she shouldn’t have pushed the boy, make suggestions as to what she could do next time she’s annoyed, and encourage her to own up to her teacher and apologise to the boy, I’ve left it there. I’ve told her these are all suggestions but it’s her decision whether she speaks to her teacher and the boy or not. There will presumably be consequences for Katie at school for what she did, but there won’t be at home. It’s something that happened at school, that I’m not sure I have all the facts on, that school haven’t spoken to me about directly.
Also although I’m not at all pleased that Katie has pushed another child, I am pleased that she chose to speak to me about it. The last thing I would want is for her to open up to me and then get shouted at or punished and feel that she can’t talk to me again in the future. I hope I got the balance right between explaining that she was wrong but working out what to do about it rather than making her feel rubbish about herself.
If this was a one off I probably wouldn’t be stewing on it as much, because to be honest all kids give each other a shove every now and again. The kids in her year are still only 8 and 9 years old so although yes they know better than to push each other, they are also still learning to control themselves and their emotions. I remember being so cross with my sister once when we were little (I can’t remember why) and she was just in front of me with her back turned…and I was SO angry I didn’t think about it I just yanked her ponytail as hard as I could and pulled her head back…cue tears from my sister and a bollocking for me! It’s not like I’m a saint and I don’t expect my kids to be either, but this has the makings of developing into a bit of a theme with Katie recently. Her teacher spoke to me about something else with another boy in her class a few weeks ago where no one had been able to get to the bottom of who had done what but they were both accusing each other of hitting the other one. Katie was also upset one day because she said she’d accidentally knocked her friend over and was worried she’d be angry with her.
I really really don’t want to be that parent who makes excuses for their child or lets them get away with inappropriate behaviour. I also don’t want to put everything down to autism. But….there is a level of complexity with Katie that just isn’t there with my other two. I worry about her more, I second guess my parenting with her more, I wonder about her understanding or interpretation of things more. I’m very aware that me, John, Alice and Matthew can have a conversation and all get the same meaning out of it, and Katie will get something totally different from it. We hear all the time that behaviour is communication and that ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’ behaviour is generally a sign of distress. We already know that Katie is distressed just by being at school. The noise levels overwhelm her, the social interactions exhaust her, the feeling of being different grinds her down, small changes in routine (changing where the kids are sitting, switching lessons round, a teacher being absent etc) escalate her anxiety. There are very few accommodations being made for her at her school in spite of repeated requests, and one of the things we have asked for throughout this academic year is ELSA (Emotional Literacy Support Assistant). It’s hard for any kids to manage big emotions, never mind Katie whose emotional literacy is not great. She feels her emotions so strongly but doesn’t have a good understanding of them so doesn’t know what to do about them. She often doesn’t understand other people’s emotions or motivations. She is very black and white in her thinking about people and either thinks they are amazing or horrible. Maybe I’m pinning my hopes too much on what ELSA could achieve but surely Katie is exactly the type of child they’re there for? So far she’s just had a handful of sporadic sessions spread over a 6 month period. There is nothing consistent for her at all.
When you add up the daily overwhelm, anxiety, irritation, and lack of support it’s not surprising should could lash out and give someone a push. I’m still not saying it’s OK she’s done that but it’s a case of looking at the environment she’s in and the support mechanisms in place.
I’m not saying we’re perfect and school isn’t but at least I’m confident that we’re doing what we can for Katie at home and in the meantime also still learning and understanding more about autism so that we can continue to adapt and support her. I just can’t say that about her school at all. It’s like talking to a brick wall. I phone, I email, I get support from the autism advisors at the council, I repeat myself non stop, and either nothing changes or the changes are so minimal and slow to get put in place that they’re pointless. It’s beyond frustrating for me and it’s beyond unacceptable for Katie. I’m keeping everything crossed that she gets accepted to the new school and things improve for her as far as school is concerned. If it doesn’t I really don’t know what the next step would be.
In the meantime I’m left wondering. Did I deal with this in the right way? Am I making too much of it? Am I not making enough of it? Does Katie feel OK about our conversation? Is she going to get into trouble from school? Am I just making excuses for her?