Matt is my youngest son and he was happy and keen to start school. In Year 2 we started to hear teacher comments like “he won’t get started on his writing” or the kicker at the end of the year “he can’t read”. I had suspected something was amiss as his older siblings all seemed to be doing far better at the same point but I was continually assured he was fine, he was average. Home readers were a nightmare and his younger non-school-aged sister memorised them week-by-week before Matt could even attempt to work out what was on the page. In Year 3 I started to raise my concerns more vocally at the school. Matt was IQ tested and I was told everything averages out, all children can’t be smart, and no, he was not dyslexic. I insisted he was put on Multi-lit and volunteered as a parent tutor for another child. By Year 4, Matt was falling apart, hiding under the desks, refusing to work. A teacher change brought with it a lifeline – he was showing red flags for dyslexia. I had no idea where to go nor did the school. After several false starts with ended up at a speech therapist for several months who once again said it wasn’t dyslexia. Fortunately the school he attended embraced technology so using laptops to complete work was an everyday activity and Matt found a way around his dyslexia and made it through to Year 6 with a very supportive teacher.
When Matt was in Year 7 he received his dyslexia/dysgraphia diagnosis via the ADA assessment. Despite the relief of this diagnosis it was not enough to prevent the downward spiral into anxiety and depression. I had ongoing battles with the school learning support team who refused to acknowledge his diagnosis nor put sufficient accommodations in place. School refusal set in and he was constantly referred to the school counsellor. He would cry uncontrollably at the thought of going to school, completing homework, or assignments. At parent teacher night, some teachers were surprised to learn of his diagnosis. Towards the end of Term 3 he crashed and subsequently self-harmed at school.
We enrolled Matt in another school for the start of Term 4. The school was exceptional in making adjustments and accommodations but under resourced in terms of being able to help a student, with the reading age of 8 & high anxiety, develop skills and cope with the demands of high school (1 LAST for a school of 1200+ students). Matt worked exceptionally hard but could not maintain this pace nor could he cope with the demands he placed on himself to achieve. Feeling overwhelmed he hit his lowest point. Doctors, psychologist, & psychiatrist’s visits continued. School refusal made every morning challenging and he missed most Semester 2 despite being a reduced timetable.
Matt is technically in Year 9 this year. He went the first 8 days of the school year and spent the remainder of Term 1 at home. He was then referred to a hospital day unit for adolescents with mental health issues. To facilitate this program, I had to take long service leave as the hours and time it took to drive there were not conducive to working. We are currently finishing up the day unit and Matt is being transitioned into an anxiety class at a third high school. This is the last stop. I believe we finally have the most ideal situation – a small class with an MSL trained teacher. The mornings are a stressful juggling act and I deposit a withdrawn anxiety-riddled minimally functioning child at the school gate.
In therapy sessions and medical appointments terms like PTSD, depression, phobias, and anxiety are labels now attached to my child. I often think back to that first day of kindergarten and wish I had been as informed as I am now. Things could have – should have – been a lot different.
*note names have been changed for privacy reasons