A mother’s place is in the wrong

Here’s something I wrote back in 2010 before I properly understood my son’s executive function difficulties.

Our Town, June 2010

Dear Stan,

It’s a few minutes before midnight as I begin this letter of love to you, at the end of a very busy day.

Earlier this evening you shed tears of disappointment as we walked back to the car after the great Our Town Scout Jamboree. All the Beavers, Cubs and Scouts were gathered for a games night: tug of war, hide and seek, the bucket filling race, and toasting marshmallows on the campfire. You were awarded the Chief Scout’s Silver Award – the highest badge available in Cubs – and formally passed from Cubs to Scouts.

cub_challenge_badgeBut still you cried, even though you have never been a cry baby. Why?

Because you did not receive the ‘Scottish Challenge Badge’.

And you blamed me.

When you were younger, you used to resist doing your reading homework, using every dodge, trick, displacement activity you could think of, and you had many, many tantrums about it. Later on, in P5, your homework refusal transferred itself to maths. Luckily for you, you hardly ever got maths homework in P6, but when you did my heart sank as it was always a horrible scene.

One evening a few months ago, you had maths homework, but wouldn’t do it. Work that should have taken 20 minutes took over an hour, and most of what you did was incorrect. By the time the maths homework was finally finished it was nearly 7.30 and you had missed an hour of Cubs. As the Cubs meeting finished at 8 pm, I said you couldn’t go at all, thinking that missing something you enjoyed would be a good lesson to encourage you to get your homework done in future.

Well, it turns out that three activities counting towards the Scottish Challenge badge were done that evening at Cubs, and it all came home to roost tonight when you saw other boys get that badge and you didn’t. You cried bitter tears, you couldn’t keep them in, as we walked back to the car after the meeting broke up. You said it was my fault you didn’t get the badge because I had made you miss that Cubs meeting. I could tell you remembered that evening even more clearly than I did.

I tried to gently reason with you that if you’d done the work quicker you wouldn’t have missed the Cubs meeting. You said I had made you do extra sums as well as the homework, and perhaps I did to try to reinforce what you’d been getting wrong. I reminded you that you’d had a dreadful tantrum and refused to do the homework. You said, “Of course I had a tantrum, because you were hitting me.”

I did hit you. Smack you. I did lose my temper. Although it was after I spent a very long time and a lot of emotional energy trying to get you to do a few little sums on a worksheet. It was after you were in a full blown oppositional-defiant tantrum, and I had used up all my resources, not before.

I’m sorry I hit you, I’m sorry I lost my temper. Those things are my fault and I am to blame. I am responsible for my behaviour.

I’m sorry you are sad about the Scottish Challenge badge. But is it my fault you missed out on it? It was a consequence of a chain of events that began with you refusing to quickly do a little bit of maths homework. When will you be responsible for your choices?

But I feel awful and am crying as I type this.

I love you more than I love my own life and I always will.

Mum x

The thin end of the central processing spectrum

It is inexcusable in 2016 for teaching professionals not to use simple classroom accommodations for kids with mild learning difficulties.

I’m now sure that my son has some impairment of executive function capability, possibly in the category of ‘central auditory processing disorder’ abbreviated to CAPD. Whatever it is, it’s very mild and actually in population terms at his school he is ‘doing well’. He has passed 6 N5s and 2 or 3 Highers (depending on whether you think a D is a pass), which puts him in a zone nobody (except his parents) is concerned about.

But his father and I are both educated to doctorate level, so he is not doing as well as you might expect the biological child of such parents to do. You would expect 5 good Higher passes in one sitting. And the Scottish Government’s latest slogan regarding education is Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC), so the school’s failure to recognise my son’s condition is frustrating.

At the beginning of every school year I tell my son’s teachers, “What you say to Stan [not his real name, obviously] is not necessarily what he ‘hears’ “. The word ‘hears’ here has the meaning of ‘understands’; in CAPD there is no hearing impairment. I ask the teachers to ensure that Stan has written down the homework task accurately and to take a moment to make sure he has taken in any important instructions. “Oh right,” they say while the thought bubble over their heads says ‘neurotic pushy parent of a lazy thick kid’. Then a few months later we get a report card home on which various teachers have written, “Stan,  you often don’t seem to understand the task,” or “You often don’t answer the question that was asked,” or “Your work tends to be poorly laid out and untidy and you don’t write enough.”


Of course, I understand that Stan’s condition is incredibly mild and that the school has to deal with many kids with really severe learning difficulties. But, it is inexcusable that they first of all don’t bother to make basic classroom/teaching accommodations for my son, and then, criticise him for displaying the effects of the invisible disability that we told them about in the first place.

So you can see why GIRFEC has become a substitute swear word in our house, usually used when reading school report cards.