19 February, 2015

Kicking goals and High fives all over the shop

Homework: 18 Feb 2015 - The Final
All his own work (but I did help a bit with the spelling when he asked.)

It was 20th October, when Milo was headed towards finishing Grade 2, and I'd spent pretty much two hours of every Monday during the school year in the classroom helping out with literacy and numeracy learning centres (but not working directly with Milo), I realised, looking at some of Milo's work on display in the classroom that everything wasn't quite right.  His presentation was more than just sloppy.  It was a trainwreck.  Careless.  Unfinished.  Shabby.  Terrible.  It showed a lack of thought.  A lack of effort and endeavour.  Honestly, it was ghastly and I was truly speechless. 

So knowing how incredibly bright and capable Milo is, but also what a difficult time he has had at school with some social issues (for that read ongoing bullying), I asked his teacher if it would be okay if Milo redid the task at home so we could replace the dog's dinner with something a little more complete and polished.

Sadly that afternoon we lost Poppy and the world stopped for a week or so while we mourned her passing.

Poppy watching Milo watching telly (June 2014)

Poppy loved her boy and her boy loved her and things were very sad for a bit.  But life marched on, as it does, and the time for us to tackle the task of the piece of work from school arrived.

We discussed the piece, what it involved, what he had to do, what tools he needed, etc.  And then, instead of me standing over him like I usually would, micro-managing the process ("Tall Ts." "Ps hang below the line." "Leave spaces between words." "Is that an R or a V?"), I just sat back on the other side of the room and observed and let him do his thing. 

It was horrible and terrifying and the most awfully painful thing I'd seen when it came to Milo and schoolwork.

This child, who could talk the weatherboards off a building, was completely stumped about how to even begin. My heart crumpled as he became distressed and stressed and increasingly frantic as he battled to make the ideas in his head materialise on the blank page in front of him.  And after 30 minutes of anguish and scribbling and rubbing out and hair tearing, I approached the table to see what he'd produced and it was the same dog's dinner he'd created at school.  All chaos and mess and confused catastrophe.

And it dawned that my assumption that the work messiness, incompleteness and incomprehensibility being due to a lack of effort and endeavour couldn't have been more wrong.  This kid had sweated blood to put ANYTHING down. I'd been accusing him of not trying, of being slack.  And I couldn't have been more wrong.

So I swept him up into my arms and carried him over to the sofa and I apologised profusely.  And we hugged each other for a really long time. And I told him that we were going to find a way to make this work bizzo a whole lot easier because none of it was supposed to be like this.  None of it was supposed to be hard and confusing and difficult.  There was a way through.  We would find the way together.

We had a break went outside, sat in the grass, played with Bongo for a bit and then came inside spent the next three hours, THREE HOURS, producing a finished piece together. Me guiding.  Him following.  Step. By. Step.  Torturous.

The finished piece took three hours to produce.

It quickly became apparent that the challenges for Milo were on a few levels: the handwriting itself, something he has always resisted;  dumbing down the information so he doesn't have to write; and lastly, but definitely not leastly, not knowing how to divide up the page to organise where and how the information should go.

When we sat back at the end of the exercise, both exhausted, I was confronted with the reality that it had taken three hours (and not calm, enjoyable hours either) to produce one heading, four pictures, fours sub-headings and four short sentences. 

The next day I spoke to Milo's teacher and told him we needed to get Milo assessed because there was clearly something wrong.  Something cognitive going on.  I didn't know what it was, but there was obviously something not quite right.  What was the school going to do?  What were the steps?  What happens?

I was advised at that point, given that we are in the State system, that there isn't funding for assessments, and that I was going to have to seek out assistance myself.  And they pretty much left me with that.

Now if you don't know Milo, you don't know that we're not talking about an average little kid.  We're talking about someone who's presentation to his Prep peers was about Blackholes and Wormholes. He's all about crystals and molten rocks and all sorts of stuff to do with building.  He's developed theories about multiple dimensions  he'll tell you about and he isn't intimidated intellectually by anything.  He's interested in anything and everything as long as there's people who are involved and engaged, because he's a people person and he just wants to be part of what's going on...

So I walked away, shattered.  Not knowing what to do.  I mean, how the heck in a first world country can a school not have the means to assess a kid with special needs?  Or not even give a parent a hint of a clue about where to go or what to do?  Seriously? If there's money for chaplains, and I'm constantly being asked to put my hand in my pocket to fundraise...  Who is setting the priorities?  And why isn't something like this on somebody's list? 

Anyway, I went home and rang Parentline Victoria (ph: 13 22 89) and they advised me to contact the Royal Children's Hospital Child and Family Psychology Clinic.

I managed to secure an appointment within 10 days (unheard of, I found out later, as the average wait time is eight to 10 months), and received a truly comprehensive 19 page report with 10 pages of recommendations four weeks later. 

It wasn't until we started answering questions that we realised that things we'd been managing weren't necessarily the way things needed to be or indeed the way things should be.  And what's more, we had the power to change them and make things better.  So much better.

So armed with this report we've managed to get Milo started on a truly intense regime of treatment with specialists and therapies to help make his experience at school and in the world generally a whole lot better.

The biggest thing for me has been to learn that although I'd never thought of Milo as being "of me", per se (I'd always thought of him as being completely his own person) I'd still, to a degree, assumed he'd interact with the world through the prism of paper and pens and words and pictures in the same way I did/do, when that isn't the case at all.  He has his own means and methods of interacting with the world that is purely his own and I can't presume to even understand it.  All I can do is respect that it is him.  He truly is just Milo.

So back to the the goals he kicked yesterday.  Oh my goodness.  He did his homework, albeit with some help.  But he didn't get all shirty and he didn't fight me every step of the way.  He took on my advice.  He did a plan with dot points and didn't resent the extra writing the dot points required (and yes, he enjoyed ticking them off when he wrote the final copy - very gratifying).  He wrote in sentences.  He even cracked a little joke.  It all took about 40 minutes and in the end I asked how painful it was out of 10 and he told me it was naught out of 10 because it wasn't painful at all.

Now I know we have a long way to go.  I know this isn't masterful A+ genius Einstein work.  But if you saw where we were just a few months ago, and you saw what he did just yesterday you would be tripping and twirling just like I am.  The progress he's made is unbelievable. UNBELIEVABLE!  And he starts Occupational Therapy tomorrow.  Can't wait. 

And then Pluto the Puppy comes in seven sleeps and the world will turn on its ear in the best possible way.  Good times are a-foot.  I can feel it in my waters.*

*At this point I'm not even going to go into the costs of the reports and specialists. Suffice to say that by February we have exceeded the Medicare threshold for the year.


  1. Yippee and yay for persistence......

  2. Indeed. Persistence and patience. Lots of deep breaths. An outside to transition to at times of frustration. A wall to sit on and cry. Arms for hugs and totem tennis to bash. Also friends to pick the brains of. A great big help.