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Schools have good intentions - changing rooms and French tests

It was the first week in 'big school'. Everyone was nervous. Some hopelessly lost. Others reveling in the new freedoms. Everyone had suddenly changed from being the 'top dogs' to being the youngest. It was exciting and yet somehow terrifying.

Teachers and the Head or Yr 7 were discovering the particular mix of young persons that would make up their cohort for the next 5 years.

Physical Exercise (PE) moved from getting changed in the classroom, to getting changed in a single sex bespoke changing room largely without adult supervision: young adults with new freedoms and energy levels high following physical exercise. There was a short time to get changed and ready for the next lesson.

Paul has an autistic spectrum condition with complications in fine motor co-ordination and dyspraxia. The changing room is a complete nightmare. It will take him twice as long to get changed compared to other kids. He is suffering from massive anxiety anyway in the new school. This is now off the scale as he knows that if he is late for next lesson the threat of DT lurks. He cannot abide the chemical smell of deodorant, nor the high pitched sound of the aerosol spray that is being liberally used.

The other kids notice that he is suffering. They notice that he doesn't use spray. They start teasing as they get dressed, shooting short sprays of deodorant in his direction.

Paul reaches breaking point and pushes one of the tormentors. His tormentor reacts by taking one of Paul's shoes and throwing it around the room. Paul runs around, crashing into everyone, and eventually runs out of the changing room in floods of tears.

The school is caring and carries out a full investigation. Of course the story from the other kids in the changing room doesn't align with that from Paul. This is partly due to natural defensiveness and ganging together, but also because the world viewed from autistic anxiety is different.

Nobody is punished. All the children are told to behave themselves in the changing rooms.

Paul is told to report any further bad behaviour.

Paul's parents are informed formally about the incident and reassured that it has been dealt with.

The incidents continue with Paul 'losing' items of PE kit, and with pushing and barging in the PE queue. At one point his PE bag is taken and lodged in a basket ball hoop. He is getting more and more angry and withdrawn. His parents are getting increasingly annoyed at having to buy new items of PE kit (it's a DT if a child doesn't have full kit).

Eventually it gets too much and Paul's parents call for a meeting with the head of PE. The story that has been relayed to them by Paul seems miles away from the school's story. They are used to this.

However, the school has done its best, looked around for a solution, and found a disabled toilet that Paul can use, thereby resolving the problem in a stroke.

The parents are delighted.

Paul is delighted.

The changing room issue is finally resolved.

It is the first step towards social exclusion for Paul in his new school environment.

It is followed by many more, always motivated by the best of intentions. He is bullied in tutor group to the extent that he has to change groups into one where friendships have already formed, and where he joins a new timetable which means that he misses one Technology subject totally (and repeats CAD/CAM). He is put on tables on his own (because it removes him from kids who repeatedly and deliberately click their fingers which he cannot abide). He gets a 5 minute pass out, which means that he can get to lunch earlier than the rest and avoid queues (which precludes him from eating food with potential friends).

Other forms of social exclusion are more subtle. They usually are defended by teachers with 'we have to treat all the children the same'. Why? All kids are not the same!

Paul was given a French test. It was provided as two lists of words. On the left the English word. On the right the French word, but the order was mixed up. The first task for the students was to link together the right English - French pairs by joining them together with a line. Then they were given homework to learn the pairs for a test the following day. Failure to get 50% right would result in a DT.

On the surface, this doesn't seem too problematic. Paul spent a lot of time learning the pairs and went into the test confident. When the results came out he was told that he got zero right and had a DT the next day. He was devastated and went into a complete meltdown.

His parents picked up the pieces and slowly realised what had happened. Paul had followed the instructions that he was given and had learnt the pattern of word pairs. The test was given in a different order and he consequently got them all wrong. For someone with autism, this is perfectly logical. He was simply following precisely the instructions given. And a teacher who knew that he was ASC should have known this.

Of course his parents complained loudly about the unfairness of the punishment.

'We have to treat all the children the same'.

Paul, bless him, went along to the DT. Learnt the words. Took a retest and passed with 100%. His teacher sent his parents an letter complimenting Paul on his attitude and co-operation.

Paul never ever again respected this teacher and, sadly, the French language.

Social Exclusion.

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