All About Pip!

It can be very easy when writing a blog to focus on the things that are a challenge.  Over the years I know I have found it quite cathartic to write down the difficulties we have faced and I have found that, as I write, the challenge either feels easier or I formulate a plan as to how to move forward.  This is helpful for me and also, I hope, helpful for anyone reading my little corner of the interweb.  Pops (the children's Grandad) used to say "interweb" and it's one of those little sayings that I've kept going.  I find repeating the saying of those who are no longer here helps keep them close in the heart and mind.

The purpose of today's little reflection is actually pretty positive.  I think there's a nervousness about saying "very positive" because when we live with ongoing challenges there is always the knowlege that the other shoe can fall at any given moment so we almost look at the positive moment from out of the corner of our eye, so as to not give any indication that we are acknowledging it.  If it is seen it might quickly flit away and shower its blessings on some other lucky person.  However reflect on how things have been for Pip recently I will (said in my best Yoda voice).

I can tell you the exact day that something shifted in Pip. It was Friday 23rd February 2024.  It was the day we went to visit his new school. It was a day that blew me away and I wrote about it in A step in a new direction. Since I wrote that post we have had the start date for Pip's transition, which will be in a few weeks time.  Two weekends ago we met up with some of the parents and their children who are also starting transitions soon with a view to starting in September. The aim being to help break down some of the building anxiety.   We all met up in a pub in the New Forest and had a meal and the children played and chatted, which for boys with neurodiversity was quite an achievement.  The mums chatted with the sort of familiarity that those who have been challenged by the education system and recognise kindred spirits do, and we have plans to meet up again before September.  Pip told me on the way home that the boys had talked about how nervous they were about starting the new school but that talking to each other had helped him feel much better.  So much better in fact that he's currently scoring his anxiety as a 2/10 which for a child who has been terrified to go to school for years is phenomenal.

Since we attended the assessment day at the school Pip has walked a little taller.  He's literally taller too and I swear every morning when he gets up that he's grown another inch. What's changed bit by bit is his self confidence.  He has started to realise that he can try new things and be successful.  He has started doing more learning with me at home.  I've allowed him to lead this without comment but he's gone from running in fear at a learning book to sitting down last night and doing 6 pages of work without any assistance.  Anyone who has a child with a fear of formal learning will be able to imagine the joy that I felt when he proudly talked me through what he had achieved.  I should interjet at this point with the information that Pip earns money for doing his learning books and practising handwriting.  There is a weekly cap but my hope had been that the monetary incentive would help Pip overcome his fear, which it has.  It wasn't immediate but slowly he has gained confidence.  I can see how proud he feels however when he creates a perfect letter or writes down some words.  It can be hard at times when I see other children his age doing their SATS, but for Pip, this is like writing a disseration in terms of achievement for him. As the saying goes, my cup runneth over to see him putting himself out there and pushing himself to try new things.

The other thing that has changed is his attitude towards his hobbies (swimming, bouldering and tennis).  For a long time I have taken him every week and he wouldn't have minded if we missed a session.  With bouldering particularly I have ensured I don't tell him until we are almost there if his friend is missing the session because he just wouldn't go.  However in those solo sessions he has started to realise that he can do the climbing and he has also suddenly realised he wants to get better.  This is a first for Pip.  Before half term he completed his first Level 4 climb so I offered him a financial incentive to do more Level 4 climbs this week.  He took that and went one further and completed his first Level 5 climb as well.   He was walking on pillows on clouds on air after the lesson and he came home and then completed the 6 pages of work.  He said to me he wants to get better at all his hobbies and "be a pro". Seeing him feel so proud of himself and watching him realise that he can do what he sets out to filled me with such happiness.  He even told me he was feeling excited about starting school soon.  He is able to ask question and articulate what anxieties he has which is also such a step forward for him.  I didn't ever think I would hear him say those words and I hope and pray with everything in my being that the new school is everything I hope it will be.  All the reports are so positive and other parents speak highly of the school so there is every chance.  Mostly what I want is for Pip to see that he has a positive future and that he has some say and control over that future.  What I can see is he is ready to try. 

Puberty brings its challenges.  Pip is going through all the changes that accompanies puberty. He is so open about it all though.  We have done lots of work around the changes to his body together and it's been delightful to see that he feels comfortable to talk to me about what is happening for him.  His voice is breaking and he has the start of the side "tash".  He's now 11 and I'm not sure I'm ready for all the growing up yet.  He's a very young 11 despite all the physical changes.  Katie and I went through a lot together through her early puberty and I have some residual anxiety about what puberty might bring. There are meltdowns and the flashes of anger that have challenged Pip for many years.  He still needs careful support to help him manage the combination of all his diagnoses in terms of executive function (and his inate sense of fairness). We are still exploring a way to access the FASD diagnosis and circumnavigate the one very unhelpful sentence in his CPR that said he wasn't exposed to alcohol during pregnancy. It's clear from a recent cognitive assessment that he has FASD.  He's generally an affable, easy going and fun young man though.  He still loves being tickled in the morning to wake him up and he loves to mess about and play.  Pip has always shown great capacity for joy (which I try to remember when he is in one of his very whingey moods).  He has many complexities, which the Disability Living Allowance form I've just spent the past month writing supplementary evidence for would describe but, right in this moment, what I see is a young man who is starting to find himself and whose self esteeem is finally building itself up. He's been through a lot of anxiety in his young life, both the children have to bring Katie into the narrative here, and it has taken its toll on him and Katie.  Both however are starting to connect some dots which is wonderful to see.  It's so important to celebrate the positives and I wanted to connect in with how I am feeling in this moment and all that Pip is achieving.

As an acknowlegement to where Pip has been I wanted to share a blog post that I read a few days ago.  It's called Anxiety: School on Fire and was written by a head teacher related to his 12 year old daughter's school based anxiety.  It's the best and most poignant description I've ever read.  It compares school to a burning building and highlights all we try to do to convince the child that it's safe to be in the burning building despite everything in their body and mind telling them otherwise.  A friend of mine commented that we parents are essentially trainee fire fighters, constantly putting out the fires and trying to spot any signs of smoke before the flames start up again. When I look back at all the things I've done to try and encourage Pip into school I feel so sad at what he was trying to tell me and how long it took me to really stop and listen.  It might be handy to have a tissue at the ready as you read.

Whilst this post is incredibly powerful and emotional to read and I don't want to dampen my positivity. I do think it's important as a reflection of just how far Pip has come however and how brave I feel he is to decide to go back to school. What I do know is that taking him out of school for the past few years was the right thing to do to help him put out some of the flames and for him to reconnect with who he is and what he can achieve instead of being faced daily by what he couldn't.  As he said to me last year:

"I think the thing in my brain that told me I couldn't go to school has gone now".

My hope for Pip is that I have now found the right school for him where he will be seen, understood and nurtured and can have all the support he needs to put a stop to the fire and build the building back up. 


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