Saturday was miserable, rain, rain, and more rain. I decided to go into our loft and have a sort out, just the kind of job to be saved for a rainy day.
I found many things I had forgotten that we had, many of which should have been thrown away without actually ever making their way to the loft.
Anyway I started sorting, charity shop and bin.
I came across a file which was full of information about Zach going back to when he was first diagnosed with autism at 2 years 8 months.
I decided it was time to clear some of this stuff out, we just don’t need it anymore. I was looking through to make sure that I didn’t throw away anything which we may want to refer back to. What I read made memories come rushing back of some really difficult times, things which I knew were being done to my son and was powerless to stop.
Zach’s first school was a local Severe Learning Disability school. It was the choice! The only school available.
The nursery at this school was such a loving, nurturing environment, the staff were so professional and keen to help the children.
Things quickly changed when Zach left the nursery. We were investing a lot of money in PECS ‘Picture Exchange Communication System’ to help Zach to communicate. He was very quick to pick it up and extremely capable.
School didn’t seem to be using it with the exception of snack time, imagine if the only communication efforts you could make were to ask for food and drink. It is tokenistic at best.
Despite me working hard to have a good relationship with school I was frustrated that more was not being done.
Zach spent some time in the autism base where he seemed to be happy but when he left the base things very quickly went down hill at an amazingly fast speed.
We limped along, I looked at other schools, I wanted Zach to enjoy school and to learn, I didn’t feel that was happening. He would melt down almost every evening when he arrived home having been trying to hold it together all day.
I approached education about him moving school but was told the school were meeting his statemented needs, I didn’t feel they were.
I wished I hadn’t read some of this stuff on Saturday, the memories are some which I did not wish to revisit, but at the same time having watched the recent Panorama programme about the systemic abuse at Whorlton Hall in Durham it is so easy to see how those who have autism and complex needs end up being sectioned and sentenced to a life of frustration, anger and disappointment.
The document I found which hit me hardest was a report which was written following Zach coming home with marks and bruises on his torso, front and back and finger bruises on his inner arms. Zach was 10 years old then, he was a tiny boy at 10. The report made me feel heartbroken and intensely angry at the same time.
Zach’s crimes that day included trying to take instruments from a box in the music lesson, he was told to sit down, he did that for 30 minutes! That is a very long time for Zach and he then got up and returned to the instruments. After sitting for 30 minutes Zach deserved a massive reward, but no he was repeatedly told to sit down again and then someone held his school shirt to keep him on the chair. Staff seemed surprised that Zach’s reaction was that he began to aggress to staff. He had done what he was asked to do but that wasn’t enough, there was no positive reinforcement, no verbal praise just an expectation that he would continue to comply with no reward.
He was then restrained.
The day continued in a similar vein, reading it is hard, knowing that my boy was reaching out to staff at the school, trying to build relationships and all his efforts were rebuffed.
The day was full of sitting, assembly, music, then an achievement assembly. He was restrained again in achievement assembly after becoming unsettled. Allowed out into the playground where he wanted to take his school shirt off, he was repeatedly told he must wear his shirt, then allowed to take it off for 10 seconds and was then told to put it back on! All these mixed messages would confuse most people, imagine trying to comply when the message is so unclear.
He was then taken back into assembly and tried to take his shirt off again, was taken out again, then back in, then back out!
When the car crash of a day was at it’s end Zach was led to the transport by two staff who were restraining him.
At the end of the report it says that his mood had not been good all day….which was surely no surprise to anyone.
I still remember that day, he was happy to be home and went outside to the trampoline. It was a boiling hot day and he took his shirt off and I saw his little body marked and bruised and couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing.
We should have called the police, it should have gone straight to safe guarding but I phoned the school and was told by the Headteacher that Zach had, had a very difficult day….she was telling me.
The incident was heard at a County Council pre-safeguarding hearing. The Head Teacher was invited to explain, she apparently claimed all the injuries were inline with what you would expect when using that method of restraint. They accepted this despite it being totally inaccurate. Neither Zach or I were invited.
The next morning the transport arrived and I opened the door to take Zach down to it and he shot off as fast as he could, running up the road away from the school bus. I kept him at home, I just couldn’t bear to put him through another day at that school.
Zach did go back to school after this incident but not for long, we were fortunately near the end of term and in September the Head temporarily excluded him very shortly after his return, she eventually permanently excluded him, much to my relief.
I am probably a nightmare parent, I will fight for my son to receive the correct support, in the best environment possible. I will aim high for him to live a happy life where he is treated with respect and given the dignity we all deserve.
I knew that the way the school had excluded Zach was unlawful, I knew that they hadn’t been complying with his statement and I knew that they hadn’t followed correct procedures to try to help Zach within the school.
There were autism experts available to give the school guidance but the school would not reach out to those experts. The school was using Teaching Assistants as teachers, young people straight out of University. The school just didn’t understand autism and complex needs or that functional assessments and positive rewards are needed.
The school had a battle of wills going on with a 10 year old boy, they wanted to control Zach and he didn’t want them to. They took away his only method of communication, his PECS book because they said he was using it to gain control!
Can you imagine having your voice taken away as there was a danger you might ask for what you wanted?
Zach did not learn anything positive at that school, the wonderful work the Nursery team put in was quickly forgotten. What Zach learnt were great avoidance techniques, how to get out of doing something he didn’t want to do.
The school sent so many mixed messages it must have been hard to understand what it was that he was actually meant to be doing.
We appealed against the exclusion, which went before an independent panel. The panel found the exclusion unlawful, they found the school had failed Zach in many areas while he attended. We asked that he was not reinstated even if the extra support was put in place.
Since Zach’s exclusion in 2008 a number of other young people have been excluded from the same school, all have autism and complex needs. The school clearly learned nothing from failing Zach, all these young people deserved to be listened to, to be allowed to communicate and grow and learn.
I suppose I felt the need to write this post after watching the panorama programme as the behaviour of the staff at this school was inflammatory to Zach. The school totally and utterly refused to believe that they were in anyway implicated in the way in which Zach behaved.
I have kept these records, they are a reminder of why we fight with everything we have to make sure that Zach is continuing to learn, to live a good and happy life and allowed to express himself.
Positive Behaviour Support is teaching Zach better ways to communicate his likes and dislikes and to give him choice. Zach’s team fully recognise that he is intelligent and needs to continue to learn and acquire new skills as we all do, we just need to be given the right opportunities to allow that to happen.