I was silent. My son had been whitewashing his experience at public school since I pulled him out of it. Now I had apparently said/read something that had ripped the rose colored glasses off.
"I sat alone at lunch," he went on. "The kids teased me. There was only one kid who was nice to me."
"That one kid was important," I said quickly. "You're still close friends with her."
"But she was it!" Tears were filling his eyes now. "No one else! I've never fit in! I haven't been able to make it in any school I've been in except for homeschooling and the school I'm going to now! And what happens when I have to leave this school! It'll be the same thing!"
"Okay, we don't know that--"
But my son hadn't finished. "I have all these impulses!" He continued. "I want to make a weird noise or move in a weird way and I try to mask all of it in humor, like I'm just clowning around but it isn't funny! Sometimes I just start talking to myself and then I have to pretend that I'm talking to someone else so people don't think I'm crazy! And that's why I'm always talking about cloning and science because even when I don't have big thoughts in my head it's easier to talk about that stuff then to stop and think about how I just don't fit in! At every other school I've been bullied or excluded! What's going to happen when I have to leave this school, mom?"
I took a deep breath. I hadn't actually been prepared for any of this. "I think what we need to do is try to use the time you do have at this school to learn how to connect with your peers. This school is all about helping kids fit in without becoming sheep and so we're going to try to learn those lessons and I promise you, I will do everything in my power to keep you out of school environments that aren't healthy for you."
My son nodded and seemed to accept this but he had a hard time sleeping that night. "I can't stop thinking about the stuff I don't want to think about," he explained as he crawled into my bed at four in the morning.
The next day, while I was working out he Googled "bullying." Later he told me of all the news stories he had read. Of schools ignoring the problem, of kids committing suicide because of the taunts and threats of their peers. He was in tears and just so confused and distraught.
It had never occurred to me that I would get all this out of a Nick Hornby novel. If I HAD suspected this reaction I might have held off on giving him the book and I certainly wouldn't have read it to him at bedtime. My son has always been "different." I've lost count of how many teachers and school psycologist have told me that they have never worked with anyone quite like him. His low tolerance for frustration, some of his sensory issues and his anxiety levels reminds them of someone who is on the autism spectrum. But then he engages very well (particularly with adults), he can read facial expressions perfectly and understands social situations. He speaks in metaphors and reads and writes poetry, enjoys sarcasm and likes it when his routine gets switched up at the last minute in order to keep things fresh. All of those things are distinctly NOT autistic to the point that the last couple of psychiatrists I've brought him to have actually balked at the suggestion. There's ADHD. That's definitely a component but it's also true that my son is a lot more focused than he seems. Just because he's running around the room and touching everything within reach doesn't mean he's not absorbing and processing every single word of a quiet conversation that is going on in the corner. He's incredibly bright and everybody remarks on it but he'd be hard pressed to pass a test because of his serious school anxiety and he general...well, disinterest in tests. This school seems to be making progress with him (and, if you count our homeschooling program, this is his 6th school since kindergarten so that's kinda huge) but it's just too expensive for me to keep him in it for long. I adore my son. I want him to be able to achieve his dreams and make friends and feel comfortable in his own skin. But it is hard sometimes, and heartbreaking. I have been told by psychiatrists at Stanford that I need to heavily medicate him because I'm sacrificing too much of my life for him (with the homeschooling and all). But I won't do that because of the unknown side-effects plus I'm not really sure there's anything exactly "wrong" with him that absolutely requires serious medicating. But there's no doubt that doing this as a single parent is exhausting and if I do have to give up this school (and don't find a suitable substitute) I'm the one who is going to need medication.
And yet I know that this recent Hornby-induced revelation is progress. I know that his willingness to address these issues is a reason for new hope. It's a tough journey but I honestly believe that we'll get through it and like the Hornby book, this story is going to have a happy ending.
BTW: While you are free to comment please DON’T TRY TO DIAGNOSE HIM BASED ON THIS BLOG. I’ve heard it all and I’m no longer interested in labels.
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