Daily living with autism #3 — School just got harder!

Daddy, I don’t want to go to school!”

Words I haven’t heard in a long while suddenly rang in my ears. Like some Back to the Future deja vu time loop!

What’s going on?!

I turned around to see my youngest with a face already turning a steady red to match his tear-stained eyes. “Oh bother,” I thought, “now what?!”

I must admit I didn’t see this coming. Didn’t expect that it was a milestone we needed to revisit. Didn’t he sail into the new school year last month without so much as a cold sweat on his brow?

But like the wrinkles on my now-geriatric knees, the panic look on his face was pretty plain to see!

My son was having them returning to school blues! Boo-hoo…

No thanks to these frequent school “day-offs”.

Start stop. Start stop.

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As far as I can recall, school felt like a perpetual wheel in motion when I was a kid.

Aside from public holidays, school goes on every day. As a kid back then I have to say I’m not a fan. But then again, it kept me occupied and outta the house and my parents’ way. So guess you can say there’s world peace all around with such an arrangement.

These days it’s a different ball game.

Since my kids became old enough to attend school regularly, I couldn’t help but notice something. They had more school breaks and day-offs than I ever did!

Nearly every month there will be a day off for one reason or other; on top of the usual public holidays.

For instance, when the major national exams for 12-year-olds (Primary School Leaving Examinations or PSLE) take place annually here, all other primary levels have to stay home. They have to do pre-assigned work under parental guidance, while the school mobilises all teachers for invigilation and marking duties.

I don’t remember such disruptions during my time.

Then there are day-offs that are conveniently slotted just before already scheduled term school vacations (there are four terms yearly) to “ease” the kids out of school and into the holidays (yep my eyes are rolling too!).

There are also day-offs for non-public holidays like Youth Day (July), Teacher’s Day (September), and Children’s Day (October). Schools also “take it easy” on the eve of major public holidays like the recent Lunar New Year, National Day (August), and Racial Harmony Day (July). On these occasions, students attend school for less than half the usual time (with no lessons), and are back home before you can say “What, you’re home already?!”

Talk about an endless parade of stops and starts!

More “disruptions”

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If you thought those days disruptive, then these last two Covid years which help birthed full-scale HBL (home-based learning), were far worse!

All those days parents like me juggling WFH (work from home) and kids on HBL for Covid safety measures, were hair-raising and nerve-wracking! (Hats off to parents who home-school by default).

And I’m not alone.

Many parents struggled to balance work and help kids navigate multiple online learning platforms to get their school work done. Inequality was also exacerbated, with less financially well-off families unable to catch up due to the lack of HBL devices like tablets and laptops, especially in families with several school-going kids.

Over these couple of years, HBL became a regular feature each school term. To the point where many here wondered how much effective learning was going on, and whether curriculum content got shaved along the way at the expense of subject mastery.

But these are stuff only parents like me worry about.

My kids, especially my autistic 11-year old, worry more about the transition back to school after what for them are God-sent day-offs to stay home and play!

Which is likely what led to his meltdown three nights ago as we got ready for bed.

“I don’t want to go to school!”

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We were coming to the end of the Lunar New Year public holidays. These typically meant two days off school here; three, if you include the day before when kids return to school for just a couple of hours of play and no lessons.

A couple of weeks before that, my son had already been blessed with three atypical HBL days as mobile clinics had been set up in his school to administer Covid vaccinations. That necessitated keeping kids from school other then when they had to appear for the jabs.

Coupled with fact that the school term only began on 5 January for him, it’s probably short-sightedness on my part not to foresee the Titanic iceberg we were about to ram into!

But in my defence, I really thought after seeing how he returned to school with minimum fuss on 5 Jan; how he bravely faced his first Covid jab on 20 Jan; and in between celebrating his 11th birthday, that our friend was now a more confident lad.

Sighhh…guess it’s back to the drawing board for this clueless dad.

Taking it slow’s the best way to go

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One thing I reminded myself of this year? School will be more challenging for him. So I needed to be more compassionate and understanding.

He has to deal with a tougher curriculum, bigger classes, ‘fiercer’ teachers, and two exams per year instead of one. This means 2022 will be a year like none in his memory.

In addition, he’s still slow in his physical maturation. He looks like an eight or nine-year-old at best, while all his classmates towered over him. So I need to be mindful not to make him feel even smaller by belittling him. Which I am guilty of often doing when I lose patience and scold him when he’s slow; when I shame him to complete school and household work on time. Stuff I believe an 11-year-old ought to rise up to easily and quickly.

Not a proud stay-home-dad moment.

It all boils down again to my expectations of my child, something I’ve touched on in past blog posts. It’s about how, as a special needs parent, I need to pare down those expectations regularly.

It’s tiring though when after what feels like several years, I’m still telling him the same old-same old. Things like “swallow your saliva”, “pick up the toys on the floor”, “don’t wet your bed”, “wash your hands and feet when you return from outdoors”, “pack your school bag”, etc.

Yet, no matter how tired I am, when next he says “I don’t want to go to school”, I must remember what happened this week. I must remember to slow myself down and take a deep breath. To stop and listen closely to his reasons.

And no matter what, acknowledge that his reasons (even if they might sound immature or lame to my able-adult ears) matter to him.

Then hug and show him that it matters to me too.

Even as school gets harder, and the days grow longer.

“God help us!”

One thought on “Daily living with autism #3 — School just got harder!

  1. Eh, you bring up a good point. Even in Malaysia, I feel as though I had significantly less holidays than the school kids these days. Anyway, it might be weird to say this on your post about your son, but I never wanted to go to school, which started at around Form 1. I wonder if there are children who have the common sense to know that it’s good for them, because I certainly didn’t, lol.

    Anyway, thanks for being so honest as always, Kelvin!

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