Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Get Away from Me with Your "Perfect Kids" - Part 4: School and Sports (Final)

I can remember taking my wife home from the school in tears because one mother had told us that she was in a panic about her son and thinking of pulling him out because he was only a level 12 reader. Our son was in his class too, but at the time, he was only on level 2.

It's not that the other parent was insensitive. She probably didn't know what level our son was on. The real issue is that parents of children with academic special needs shouldn't discuss their children's progress with other parents. There really is no comparison and it will only get you upset. Given time and resources your child will flourish. In fact, five years later, our son is just finishing up the diary of a wimpy kid - and he enjoyed it!

Unfortunately, academic talk is common at school while waiting to pick your child up. Sometimes it's better to stay in the car. Some parents delight in telling you all about their child's achievements and eagerly ask about your child's work. Sometimes it's genuine but often it's all about them feeling that their child is "better". Sadly, some people need to put others down in order to "build themselves up".

Whenever possible, make sure that you identify these types people and stay well clear of them. You'd be surprised at how much parent-talk transfers to the school yard. Other children sometimes quote their parents, "My mum said that I have to stay away from you because you're not very smart" or "because you get into trouble too much". It all impacts on the already fragile self-esteem of special needs parents and special needs kids. We don't need those kinds of friends and the less ammunition you give them (through conversation), the better.

Play-Dates and Outings
Once we arranged a play-date with another child who had aspergers. We were hoping to be able to provide our son with a good "similar" friend. Unfortunately this particular child was a "smart aspie", someone with Aspergers syndrome but without the ADHD and learning difficulties that our son has. The boy's special interest was Harry Potter and he'd read all of the books - our son by this stage had just moved up to level 4 readers. The boys had a good time at our house and they still play together occasionally.

Unfortunately, the play-date has never been returned and our son has never been invited to the other boy's house. At first I consoled my wife by suggesting that not all parents have play dates but this idea was shattered when she discovered that all of the other kids my son is friendly with have had several play-dates at this boy's house. It's just our son who is excluded for some reason.

Then there's the incident where a mother came over to where my wife and several other mothers were talking and invited all but one (guess who) to an outing. My wife came home shattered but worse... the next day our son came home from school with full knowledge that he'd been excluded because all of the other kids had talked about it.

The same thing happens at school with parties. Your child will know when they've been excluded. It's a good sign that you need to look for other, better friends with more open-minded parents. It's also important to try to establish a group of friends outside of school - that's where sports come in.

From my Point of View
Ok, this first section is a little off-topic but I think it provides some necessary background...

I've never been a big fan of sports myself. For a start, I've got low muscle tone. It's part of the aspergers condition. It doesn't mean that I can't be muscular but it means that my muscles aren't attached to my skeleton in quite the same way as other people's. They're too "floppy". When I try to work out, I'm more inclined to injure myself because my limbs tend to bend back further than other people's. I put too much strain in all the wrong places.

As a result, I've never been able to do proper workouts and I've never been a particularly muscular person. My unusual gait means that although I used to be quite good at sprinting, my general running ability was decidedly second-class. Then there's my co-ordination, or lack of it...

I could go on forever but I think that my feelings about sport are probably best summed up by a two minute scene from the IT Crowd" TV show. It's well worth a watch, quite funny but it struck a chord too. I was stunned when this aired because until then, I'd assumed I was the only person who felt like this.

Sports and the Perfect Kid
The real reason for the inclusion of sport in this series stems from my time as a parent with my son, then 5 on the school soccer team. It was painful to watch my son chase the ball around without ever getting near it. He was a tall boy for his age but even with those long legs, he just couldn't run fast enough.

Even worse though were the times when he did get the ball. At those times, the ball would hit his foot and it would be as if in slow motion. He'd look down and you could almost see him saying. "Ooh, what was that? It's a ball. I wonder where it came from". He'd look up to try to work out the circumstances behind the ball reaching him then, "People are shouting at me. What are they shouting? Oh, kick it? Where should I kick it? That way? Ok... ". I'd see him reach a decision and bring his foot back to kick the ball but by that time another player would have taken it off him.

The disappointment on his face was plain to see but as a parent I had to try to be encouraging at half-time despite the fact that it really seemed futile. It would have been ok if the other kids had been equally bad at soccer but unfortunately many of them were good, very good. Some of the dads appeared to be soccer fanatics.

As the season wore on, it began to get more and more difficult to get my son to complete the second half. He would stand around and kick the dirt, sit down on the sidelines or simply wander disinterestedly off the field. Who can blame him? To him, as it was to me, soccer wasn't a sport, it was a "standing around waiting" game - because he never got a turn.

The "icing on the cake" however came from the soccer hooligan mums and dads who started by quietly advising their kids at half time and then eventually began shouting out things like "don't give it to that kid!" I could see my son's self esteem crumbling.

We'd decided well before the end of the season that it would be our son's first and last season. We were going to have to find a replacement activity, one that didn't suffer from parent hooliganism and one in which everyone was accepted for who they are. To my surprise, scouts fitted the bill perfectly (so far).

The Series
This brings me to the end of the "Get away from me with your perfect kids series". If you've missed the other parts of the series, you can read them here;
I've covered a few common groups but I'm sure that there are plenty more. Keep an eye out because even the best groups turn bad sometimes. When groups stop being supportive, it's time to leave.


In Real Life said...

Thank you for writing this series.

Jane said...

My sister had a similar situation where he son was the only one left out of a party. She went up to the mother and asked "I'm not sure if it was your intention but my son is the only one not invited so I just wanted to check to see if the invite got lost on th eway or not." He gotm his invite and noone else left him out afterwards. My sister felt rude asking but wanted to stand up for her son. Parents need to be aware that you invite everyone or a select group. Its just simple manners. If someone is worried about a child in this situation say to the parent of said child "we're having a party and your child is invited, do you think they would cope better if you stayed with them."
On the case of sport I have found that on the main AFL teams seem to cater better for children with needs than soccer. My kids play for Kellyville and I have seen first hand this being the case.

Bulldogma said...

You know what I hate? I HATE holiday cards... you know... the ones with the 6 page letter touting each family member's achievements for the year. Little Rodney got straight "A's" all year and is playing on the invitation-only soccer league for the state, and little Jane is her class president and was voted "most popular" by the entire school, blah, blah, blah!

I cannot tell you just how thrilled I am to hear about these people's charmed life in which the worst thing that has happened all year was a flat tire on the way to cheer leading practice (because of course their kid is the captain of the squad, right?).

I am lucky in one sense - our schools have a rule that children may not bring birthday party invitations to school unless they are inviting the entire class.

My daughter is a "smart" Aspie... when she wants to be. She's still not doing so great this year at school. She'd rather line up all the papers on her desk instead of actually do the work on them (they just look so messy that way). Smart or no, we still have to deal with emotional blow-ups of titanic proportions!

As luck would have it, we have an Aspie just a year older right next door. He's an ADHD Aspie, but the two get along quite well (but, oh, the trouble they get into if we're not watching at all times)!

At any rate, thank you so much for your blog!

Gavin Bollard said...

Actually, I'd be one of the people who is guilty of sending newsletters at Christmas but I'm always careful to keep them a balance of healthy optimism, humour and sarcasm.

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

Bulldogma, I'm with you! Several years ago, we got one of those letters, with all the achievements listed next to a photo of each person in the family. My then-12-year-old daughter took one look at it and said, "I'm sure glad I don't live in THAT family."

Me too, honey. Me too.

ACB said...

I have loved this series about the "perfect child" syndrome, mostly because I've always felt the frustration and resentment towards other people's "perfect" kids, but was never able to put into words why it frustrated me so much. As the parent of a recently diagnosed ADHD Dyslexic Aspie 9-year old boy, it's been so nice to follow up on everything you've written and not only do I now feel less isolated with the issues that we face as a family trying to survive the day to day stuff, but I'm also seeing things now through my son's perspective, especially in that piece about your son's meltdown over the sucker he received at school as his "reward", which prompted a big misunderstanding and eventual meltdown. I feel like we live through so many of the "misunderstandings" and meltdowns, but your description of the event really helped me see things from a new angle. I am finally beginning to live my son's life a bit more through his eyes, and it has helped me understand him much, much more. Thank you for all of your resources and personal stories as an adult who not only is currently raising children with these challenges, but has lived through them personally as well. They are invaluable. (I've also passed your blog along to family members who see our son regularly, so that they in turn can begin to understand him better.)

Just another Mom said...

I haven't be on for a while, but one of the fist places I wanted to stop in and read was your blog. I wanted to catch up with this series. Thank you Gavin for doing it. I like many others could relate in many ways. We experienced the "not getting the birthday invite" too many times. Years of answering the question, "Mommy, why don't I ever get invited?" OR... "Mommy you forgot to take me to so-and-so's party!" I could only respond with, I didn't know there was a party because we didn't get an invitation. Then quickly covering with, perhaps I lost it or it got lost in the mail... Anything but admitting that he was not invited. so sad, I am so glad that those days are behind us! We have attached ourselves to some great groups of families that are so supportive and it has done wonders for my emotional health as well as my son's! :)

Miguel Palacio said...

Sorry I'm lagging so much Gavin. That link to the clip from the IT Crowd no longer is current.

Miguel Palacio said...

Thanks for the series. Next, a good one might be "Get away from me with your 'Perfect Employee'" xD. lol