Then, very gently but unmistakably, puberty hit. And with it came a whole new set of acronyms.
Before you become a parent you have certain ideas about life. Then, you have kids, and the process of reassessing starts. And then your kid develops “issues” and you can reassess some more.
We have always favored what people consider a hippie lifestyle. You know the one. Vegetarian, organic, fairtrade, all natural. So how did we end up with a child medicated to the hilt? Ah, parenting…
Puberty hit, the hormone household is thrown upside down and sideways. Our kids turn into cranky monsters while their brain rearranges itself. Normal. Ok. Something every parent deals with – and in our quiet, introspective moments we think back to our teenage years and have to admit to a certain divine retribution. When your child’s brain is already mixed up differently, puberty can bring along some extra challenges.
Cue the arrival of Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder (of the “previously known as Aspergers” variety). It was full on, but it was what it was. Then, things got really tricky.
Beaver has spent his primary school years at a small independent mainstream school. We were made very welcome there, and he was happy. Until puberty hit, and the school started changing.
As the kids got older, his learning difficulties became more obvious. His different behavior and interests made him stand out more and more. He started to disengage from his classmates, and his classmates from him. Where he had some contact before (especially with girls, but they now became a sub-group one could not possibly be seen talking to) he was now increasingly isolated, both socially and academically. He had no friends at school. At best, the kids ignored him (sending him on errands to get rid of him for a bit) at worst they pestered and bullied him (throwing food on him, telling him to “go home and die”). He was being difficult. He was being annoying. But he was just lonely and trying – in all the wrong ways – to reach out.
At the end of year five, he tried to drink some poison “because everyone would be better off if I was not here mum” and was diagnosed with depression. He was put on anti-depressants and things got a bit better, especially when he made a friend, a girl also on the spectrum who joined his class in year six. But by the end of year six, things fell apart again.
He was not happy at school, where he continued to be ignored and bullied. He was attending an out-of-school reading programme where in one term he progressed his reading age by a whole year. It made us question what our school fees were actually achieving – he was not learning, he had no friends, and he was desperately unhappy.
Last November, after a weekend I will not quickly forget, I took him to the emergency department at the children’s hospital. He was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder – and we are still trying to get his medication right.
He left the school to go to the support unit at a nearby High School. He lost his friend (her parents clearly felt he was no good company for their daughter) and we are still struggling to control his illness. We have come down from the mania and have seen glimpses of him well again. But we are still not there, and now, mid February, he has still not been to high school for more than a few days.
I question my firm belief in inclusive education and wonder if the stress of being different helped to tip him over the edge. We have kept his sister in the mainstream (although we pulled her out of the independent school and she now attends a lovely little public school in walking distance from our house) but she’s altogether of a different character. However, the moment she gets isolated or bullied I will reconsider. Beaver feels very safe and secure at the support unit he attends now, and his self esteem is slowly improving because he is not constantly feeling like the slow one, the dumb one, the odd one out…