This past week I had to attend a daycare meeting to discuss planning for the boys to enter the school system. This meeting was in response to the agency that has legal guardianship of the boys trying to maneuver them into school in September to avoid having to continue to pay for their daycare fees. I like when children’s agencies are child focused like that.
The primary reason I was initially annoyed is that school registration starts up here (Ontario, Canada) in January and February and it was April when I got the call that the agency had been trying to meet with the boys developmental pediatrician to get her to say that they could attend school when, in fact, we had already decided that they weren’t ready. Our daycare meeting was in response to that initial chess move and couldn’t be arranged until the end of May where we all agreed that planning for the following school year does not start a month before the current school year ends.
Interestingly, Liam, who will be 5 in July, and is by far more profoundly affected by FASD at least in terms of processing and learning, had a little trial run when he was moved to the big kids classroom at daycare a few weeks earlier. It made sense at the time. The boys needed to be separated because Aiden’s sole purpose in life is to grab his brother’s attention in whatever way he can…usually by bothering him to the point of a physical altercation. On top of that, neither boy has had the opportunity to make friends because they are so enmeshed with each other. When they weren’t clawing at each other, that is.
So we put an end to that by separating them in a way that would make sense. Chronologically. But what we all forgot, even though we say this all the time, is that kids with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, often function much younger than their chronological age.
I guess I forgot to brain the day that I said yes to the move for Liam. Because it didn’t go well at all, despite his excitement, my enthusiasm, and the amazing support from his teachers and the daycare center staff. In fact, it was kind of a gong show. Or shit show if you will (forgive the language but you’ll see my reasoning in a minute).
Off he went to “Purple” with the other 4 and 5 year olds where he was joined at the end of the day with the school age kids, most of whom are 9 and under. He was super excited to have a male teacher, as was I, since there is a glaringly obvious lack of men and male role models in our home and life in general. He was even more excited to finally be a “big boy” and away from his brother.
Liam dutifully entered the class each day and told me how much fun he was having. Kids with FASD are really good at telling you what you want to hear or regurgitating what you’ve told them. My first clue things weren’t going well was the fact that he had attached himself to this red macaw puppet and continued to drift about in his own world with this puppet on his arm. After three weeks he couldn’t identify one new friend except for his puppet.
The even bigger clue is that, my completely toilet trained little man, was pooping his pants. Every single day. Not just pooping but pooping and then sitting in it all day. Because the “big kids” can go to the bathroom by themselves, the teachers didn’t catch this was happening. So he sat in it until I caught the scent of stale poop when we arrived home and checked his pants. Where the poop was so caked on we had to throw his underwear away and chisel him clean in the shower. Although I’d told the teachers that Liam can’t wipe his own bum or do up his own pants, he avoided the entire thing by not using the bathroom at all. I literally threw away 15 pairs of underwear over the course of three weeks. Interestingly, he didn’t have any accidents on weekends.
We did some investigating and, typical for kids with FASD, Liam gave me all sorts of interesting reasons he couldn’t or wouldn’t use the bathroom. Bottom line? We finally all agreed that this was emotional and not physical. He can use a big toilet at home, he knows how to ask for help (most of the time) and he could tell us that he would tell someone he needed to go to the bathroom. The pooping was a symptom of his inability to cope with the change.
After three weeks of him becoming more withdrawn and me scraping poop of his little bottom, he announced one day that “Purple is too loud.” Hallelujah! We had the beginnings of an answer. Truth? I found that room entirely too bright, too loud, and too much. Since, I’m a little sensory sensitive myself and all. So why wouldn’t this kid, who is pretty quiet to begin with, not feel the same way? The real clue came when the classes merged back in his former class at the end of the day and he was finally able to say he liked being in Montessori and wants to stay there everyday. Wow. Just wow. Not just a clue. More like he just announced what he needed. Luckily, the adults in this case ie. me and the daycare staff listened.
Problem solved, right? Except not right. Aiden happily went off to the big classroom even though he’s only 3. He loves the sound of his own voice echoing in the room and the noise doesn’t bother him a bit. He also loves being a “big boy”, and although he’s had some regression in the form of pee accidents, he’s also had them at home and we all think this is more to do with being involved in play and not wanting to stop to use the bathroom. Also, 3 year olds are simply the most defiant boogers on the planet.
The larger issue is that the agency still wants to push the boys into school as quickly as possible because daycare costs money and school is free. So there’s some talk about a January start date. The other big issue is that rather than shoving him into Grade 1 when he does start, the social worker actually suggested that he start in senior kindergarten. Brilliant! (It’s not the social worker pushing the school thing. She’s lovely. It’s the senior management group. Just saying.) Except when I called both local school boards, I learned that they do the chronological thing, too, and that starting kindergarten a year later isn’t allowed. No one could really tell my why that was. I mean, it’s not like anyone would even notice. At 31 pounds, Liam is pretty tiny for his age. It’s not like he’s going to be sprouting a beard or anything by the 3rd grade.
At this point, it looks like I’ve bought a few months or possibly a year to help the board work with us on letting a child start kindergarten when he’s 6 instead of 5. But isn’t it absolute craziness that we even have to have this fight at all? At what point did the institutions entrusted to care for children and their best interests lose sight of what children actually need. With child welfare, it’s about their budget. With the school system, it’s just the rule? I’m not really sure, actually, what that’s about but I plan to find out.
I love this statement from Josh Shipp because, not only does he know what it’s like to be a kid in “the system” like mine are, but someone stood up for him. His foster parent, after dealing with all sorts of challenging behavior, sat Josh down and said “We don’t see you as a problem. We see you as an opportunity.” Wow. Wouldn’t it be nice if the child welfare system responsible for our kids in care felt the same way. You know. So we didn’t have to convince them to toss kids out of daycare to save money and all.
Children entering school need to have more going on than simply turning 4 or 5 and a new backpack. They need to be socially and emotionally ready as well. Children who have FASD may well be of age to officially attend school but more often than not their chronological age doesn’t match their age and stage of development.
I understand that sometimes regular people forget this but it makes me a little crazy when social workers and agencies entrusted to care for children forget that in the name of budget balancing. Come on, social workers. You can be that one adult. I know you can.
Learn more about FASD and school success: