… and let me tell you a story. All the chapters aren’t yet complete, but who has the luxury of enough spare time to read a book all in one go, anyway? Because there are times when you want to read (hopefully now), and there are times when it is not a printed page which calls you, but a blank page. The silky smooth paper summons, and as you press down the ball point of your favourite pen and watch its ink mark the snowy whiteness, you find yourself travelling back in time until the tale forms in your head, and the opening sentence begins.
This is the story of the little boy who wouldn’t go to school.
He wasn’t a naughty little boy. And he loved to learn. In fact, he had taught himself to read before he was even three years old (yes, really), and even though his mother had warned his nursery teacher of this fact before he even started at Early Years, she has dismissed it as merely memorising the pages of his favourite books, and assured the mother that he couldn’t possibly have any phonics knowledge. “Well, you will find out soon,” thought the mother, knowing that this first battle with the education system was one which she would surely win. And sure enough, before the week was out, the nursery teacher discovered that in fact the little boy could fluently read absolutely any book on her abundantly stocked shelves.
By age 5, the little boy was reading himself books such as “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. As he was working with the top of the cohort in the year above, some of the children in his own year group began to resent him. He didn’t like football, and he went to ballet classes, and he was odd, and he just didn’t fit in. “You’re a girl!” they would taunt him in the playground. “You’re gay!” The little boy didn’t understand what they were saying, but he knew he wasn’t good enough to fit in. And so the little boy started to hide his shoes in the morning, or his book bag, or the worried mother’s keys. Anything to delay the inevitable walk to school.
He stopped writing. He stopped talking and just shrugged his shoulders when asked questions in class. The caring teacher was concerned that the confident little boy she’d taught for two years had stopped trying, and she suggested to the worried mother that he should be referred to an educational psychologist. So the worried mother asked the first scary GP to refer him, and the first scary GP said, “Absolutely not! If the school think there is a problem, THEY can refer him.” Then the worried mother asked the mean Headteacher to refer him, and the mean Headteacher said, “Absolutely not! THEY can refer him. There is no evidence of a bright child,” even though they had documented his advanced reading age in Early Years. The worried mother didn’t know what to do. “I’m not going,” the little boy announced, “and you can’t make me!” But they did. Eventually he became so unhappy that one day he tried to run away, and his parents decided enough was enough.
They found the little boy a new school and he cheered up, free from the bullies and the mean Headteacher. Yet with each passing year, he became more acutely aware that senior school loomed. He would soon be back with those same children – but this time there would be even more of them! All summer the little boy cried himself to sleep every single night, dreading September and wanting to die. The worried mother would hold him until his sobs subsided, trying not to let the little boy notice the silent tears which trickled down her own cheeks and into the little boy’s hair. She reassured him that everything would be alright – as much for herself as for him. The sweet sister helped, and gave her little brother lots of love and lots of time, strengthening a beautiful bond between them both.
The leaves turned, and the dreaded September arrived. The little boy managed the first day – but then it all became too much. “I’m not going!” he announced, “and you can’t make me!” The sweet sister was distraught. The hardworking daddy had just gone to a different city to work, and on school mornings the worried mother left the house before the children, so the sweet sister had to get the little boy to school on her own. Before long, the worried mother was drawn into meetings with Heads of Year and Attendance Officers who threatened to take her to court. The little boy went to see the second kind GP who told him to take his time; he listened and promised to help. (He did.)
Help, when it came, was not what any of them had expected. The little boy was issued feathers, dark green feathers, and told to exhale slowly when he felt anxious.
The worried mother left the job she loved and took the little boy and his sweet sister up to the different city to join the hardworking daddy. Another new school ensued. The little boy managed the first day – but then it all became too much. “I’m not going!” he announced, “and you can’t make me!” New mean boys had called him a goblin, and he had been left hiding behind a wall crying for all of his lunchtime. The little boy went to the third inutile GP for help asking to be referred, who reluctantly agreed only because of the second kind GP’s letter. The worried mother was again threatened with court, but she held fast and insisted on yet another new school.
The new school was a huge success for the sweet sister. She made friends quickly, and was universally loved by children and teachers alike. But the little boy managed the first day – and then it all became too much. “I’m not going” he announced, “and you can’t make me!”
The worried mother tried to encourage him. “Just get him here, and we’ll do the rest,” the new school told her. Yet they were soon ringing her to ask her to collect the little boy, as they couldn’t manage him. The little boy had started to run off, and after a particularly stressful morning where he had been chased around the car park and the adjacent road by not one but three members of the Senior Leadership Team, the worried mother was relieved when the SENCO agreed that the little boy needed help.
Yet help was refused by the green feather issuers in the different city, and the worried mother was told it was because of the third inutile GP’s letter.
The little boy was by this time very poorly. He wanted to kill himself, he couldn’t cope with the stress of school, or people, or even his own beloved family. He had shut himself away in his room with only Lego and Nintendo for company. The worried mother, desperate, took the little boy to A&E, where after a five hour wait they were reprimanded for wasting the doctor’s time. The little boy and the worried mother felt sad that nobody would help them. Yet despite telling them off, the handsome young doctor managed to get them an appointment with the green feather issuers.
The worried mother was sent on a parenting course. The hardworking daddy worked even harder and prayed it would all be ok. The little boy was an enigma to him, and he struggled to understand why he couldn’t just do as he was told. The sweet sister just got sweeter and sweeter, trying to cheer them all up.
The green feather issuers didn’t give the little boy green feathers. They gave him something much more wonderful. They gave him the Incredible Dr Hoo and Amazing Jo instead.
Amazing Jo came every two weeks to see the little boy. He wouldn’t talk to her. He wouldn’t even look at her. So she listened to the worried mother instead while the little boy fiddled with his Lego. She kept coming. Eventually the little boy let her in his room. He still wouldn’t talk. But he would nod and shake his head when she asked him questions about how he felt.
After a while, Amazing Jo arranged for the little boy to see the Incredible Dr Hoo, except the little boy got so anxious he ran away, and so it was the hardworking daddy who was told by the Incredible Dr Hoo, “He has ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder)”. The hardworking daddy started to understand why his little boy couldn’t manage, and that he wasn’t being naughty. Bits of the puzzle started falling into place.
After this, the worried mother and the little boy met the benevolent Ed Psych. They had been warned that he would be unsympathetic, that he would not want to listen, and would not want to help. Yet the warnings were erroneous. He saw the potential in the little boy, and he cared. The worried mother was full of hope.
The little boy stayed in his room for eight months. He hardly went out in all that time. But he started to get better. He started to talk again. Amazing Jo had cheered him up. Amazing Jo had cheered up the sweet sister too, and the hardworking daddy, and the worried mother (who had also hardly been able to leave the house as the little boy wasn’t always safe to leave alone). She became an absolute lifeline to them all.
One day, the worried mother heard some good news – the little boy had been given an EHCP thanks to the benevolent Ed Psych, which meant that the threats of court were mere vapour. The little boy wouldn’t be forced back into mainstream education. Instead, he would go to another new school; this time a special school just for children with ASD.
The first day of school dawned – an fun afternoon instead of formal lessons. Yet when it was time to leave, he announced, “I’m not going; please don’t make me!” And so they didn’t. They held him tight while he sobbed and shook for over an hour. They knew he was gradually getting better.
Amazing Jo said not to worry. A new visit to school was arranged for the Tuesday morning. It took the worried mother 45 minutes to get the little boy out of bed, and another 25 minutes to get him out of the car once they were there. Yet he managed to stay for an hour. He even let the worried mother buy him some uniform and a pair of shoes (he hadn’t worn shoes for a whole year, only Crocs!) The next day, the little boy was still nervous, but he managed to stay at school for two hours. And the day after that. By the Friday, he was so looking forward to going to school, he had got himself up and dressed by 6am.
The sweet sister hugged him hard – she was so delighted for him. She loved to hear that he had friends now. The hardworking daddy and the worried mother were thrilled beyond words. They knew it was truly a miracle. They knew that the little boy had taken the first steps out of the prison of mental illness and into his future. The hardworking daddy decided that he wasn’t going to work so hard, and that he would try and and have more quality time with the little boy. So he became the solaced daddy instead.
The worried mother reflected on the lonely months in the house with the little boy. She had so missed her friends and her work colleagues from home, and had battled loneliness along with him. Yet she had seen the heart of this little boy, and learnt that he was truly a priceless treasure. She loved his sense of humour, his use of wit and irony. She loved his fierce bravery, his persistent refusal to give up and his compassionate desire to help others. She learnt that he loved words and writing just like she did, and it thrilled her that he could use his words, full of passion, for good. She knew that God had given her the most wonderful little person to love. He had become not just her little boy, but a true friend. She was blessed.
The blessed mother wondered how she could ever thank all the people that had rescued them and helped them escape from their prison. There were many who had made a difference, and how could she possibly explain to them the depths she had travelled to? How could she excuse her lack of contact with friends from the outside world? She hoped they would understand that it had just been too hard to share how dark those months had been, and that they would still love her anyway. She knew that without Amazing Jo and the Incredible Dr Hoo, they would have been sunk, and maybe the little boy might have even travelled up to heaven. She would never be able to thank them enough.