J is for Joke

I looked at the lady governor dumbfounded and then at Karl who moved, uncomfortably in his seat.  Brendon looked briefly around at me, and then back to tearing up his paper toy.
She leant forward, directly opposite Brendon, peering through her gold rimmed glasses at him.  She was around 60 -ish with  dark grey hair, wound in a tight bun which fitted neatly into the nape of her neck.  Old school. Straight out of a Dickens novel.

A moment of over stretched silence hit the room as we all, but Brendon, looked on at her.

“You do understand Aspergers?” Karl directed at her.

“I’m asking that your child answer, Mr. Rhodes, and please look at me when I’m addressing him.” She stated.

“Clearly not then, Mrs..?”

“Johnstone,  Mrs. Johnstone.  I introduced myself earlier.” she retorted firmly.

“If you were familiar with the condition Aspergers, Mrs. Johnstone,  then you’d be aware that a child with this ‘disability,’ He emphasised, “Will not look you directly in the eyes when talking to you as they find it intimidating.”

“Regardless, its common manners and I’d like his response to the level of detentions.” She clipped.

“Brendon,” I looked over to him and smiled. “Please can you tell this lady how you feel about the amount of detentions you’ve had.”

He looked at me and then at her, flitting between us as he answered.  “I don’t feel anything...I don’t know what you mean..”

“Do you not see this as quite outrageous to be punished this often?” She asked.

“Not really.” He replied. “I don’t always think I should have a detention, not for the little things that I don’t think are bad.” He continued shredding his paper in anxiety.

“And what about the comments you make to teachers? Do you not think they’re inappropriate?”

“I’m only saying what I think.”

“Well I think you are a rude and defiant young man who is discrediting this school.  You are lucky to be getting an education and good teachers and all you seem to be doing is making a mockery of it all with your outlandish and difficult behaviour.’

I saw Mr. Fothergill nod in agreement.  I wanted to smack him in the face.
Before either Karl or I could interject Brendon spoke up for himself.

 “Look, I don’t know what it is you don’t get but I don’t see detentions as bad.  Like, they don’t bother me.  I get them all the time because no one understands me and even if I try to explain it to teachers they say ‘I’m arguing’ and I just get another one.  I mean, do you really think I WANT to be like this?” He actually did look her in the eye when he said that. “Do you think I want to have Aspergers? I want to be like every other kid and be able to sit still and get on with work and understand people but I can’t and I can’t change it.”

My heart melted and I wanted to gather him in my arms and take him far, far away from this situation.  I saw empathy in the eyes of the other two governors but not of the old shrew.  She remained staunchly hard faced.

“Brendon” Said Mr. Smith. “Thanks for telling us that and we will take that on board, of course. Now if we can move over to Mr. & Ms. Rhodes and have their thoughts.” He smiled warmly in our direction.

Karl looked over at me to see if I wanted to go first.  I looked at my notes...hmm...useless.

“Well,” I started, trying to run events through my mind. “Obviously I’m concerned and upset that Brendon has been moved onto this level of report but I am well aware that the computer incident is totally unacceptable and I have spoken to Brendon about this.  As for the other incidents, well, I don’t think some of them are relevant like ‘horse play’ with your friends.  That’s just normal, teenage boy behaviour, surely?” I looked for agreement in the sea of faces but didn’t find it. “The inappropriate responses, well, that’s part and parcel of the condition but something both Mrs. Armitage and I are dealing with together.  I do come in to school regularly to meet up with the SEN team and us working as a united front seems to help.” It was weak but I wanted them to understand that I was doing my level best to keep him walking within the walls of acceptance.

“Well it doesn’t appear to be helping very well Ms.Rhodes” Mrs.Johnstone remarked with a condescending smirk on her face.

I felt like a berated school child and coloured slightly at her remark.

“Are you aware of how difficult this is for me?” I asked looking at her and around the room at the others. “You talk to me as though I’m not making any effort. I leave my job early or get in late so that I can get to this school and help out and I try my hardest to support the teachers as well as my son in the education system. I don’t know if you’re aware but I have two children in this school.  My daughter is a model student, certainly not discrediting, and has an exemplary record. She is in all the top sets, is polite, and very popular with both her peers and her teachers.  Now, the interesting thing is, both my son AND daughter have been parented in exactly the same way. I know how to bring my children up properly with manners and morals and respect for others.  The difference is, one of them has Aspergers and PDA.” 
They all looked on waiting for me to continue but I really didn’t know where else to go.  Janice looked at me with softness in her eyes.  She was the only one that understood the hell I went through at home and also the only one who dealt with Brendon on a day to day basis at school.  She understood Aspergers whereas the rest of them clearly didn’t and probably didn’t really care.

“If I may pick up from there.” Karl interjected, saving me from my predicament.  “We are very understanding of the schools policies and the necessity to have this school running smoothly and without severe incidents that will impact on other students and teachers. I work in the corporate field and am well versed with how structure and maintaining good relationships works.  What you fail to take into any consideration is Brendons condition.  You are sitting here with Brendon’s behavioural plan in front of you advising how he ‘should’ be treated within a lesson. Have you all read that?  He looked pointedly at Mr. Fothergill and the shrew who remained visibly untouched.  The others shuffled through their papers to locate it. “Allow me to remind you.” He continued raising the plan to read.

“You will note on this plan that it clearly states that Brendon will not look directly in your eyes as he will find this intimidating.  It states that he will find it difficult to sit still and focus.  It states that he will sometimes need to leave a lesson if highly anxious and be allowed to go straight to BASE. It states that he WILL, at times, make inappropriate remarks due to his lack of social skills.” He placed the plan back on the table.
“This is a plan that goes out to every member of staff does it not?” He looked at Mr. Fothergill for a response.

“That’s correct.” He replied.

“Then as Head of this school and management leader I think you should insist that some of your staff actually read it. I would also suggest that you, yourself read it and make sure that as Head of this school you are fully converse in the field of autism, for the sake of all students on the spectrum, and that your staff are better trained in this area. There is no point to this piece of paper,” He pushed it forward on the table, “If nobody but the SEN team are reading it.”

“We are continually training our staff in this area and our SEN team work very hard with children who have  behaviour issues.” He responded.

“Well it doesn’t appear to be working very well.” He glanced over at Mrs. Johnstone as he used her words against her. “I have seen repeated remarks on these reports from teachers picking fault with a normal aspergic response.  Only quite recently, Mr. Fothergill, one of your senior members of staff had to be told to stop any interaction with Brendon as she seemed to find fun in deliberately goading him.” 
Ah Miss Raven.  What an evil woman.  She had constantly picked on Brendon and deliberately got him into trouble by forcing him to react.  We had insisted that the school had stopped her interacting with him in any way as he used to come back home crying about her nearly every night and refusing to go to school.

“I have been summoned to a meeting which you have, without official written notice to myself or Sophie, put our son on Governors report. If I am being brought to a meeting which is about my son’s behaviour, then at the very least, I expect a team of governors and teachers that have an understanding of Aspergers and PDA.  Clearly that is not the case and therefore we are not at a level playing field.  I will accept that the computer incident is punishable and unacceptable; I will accept that some of the comments from Brendon need addressing and working on, which is an ongoing trial for both the SEN team and Brendon’s Mother. I will not, however, accept this as an official meeting. Please be sure to make that very apparent in the minutes.” He smiled and nodded over at the secretary. “I would suggest that we all meet up when you have got this properly organised and we can discuss the governor’s sanctions then.  Please be aware that I will not remain present at any future meetings if anyone on this team has not considered my sons condition appropriately. If I suspect any further discrimination against disability I will have no hesitation in taking this to the next level.”

Karl stood up and gently pushed my shoulder to indicate it was time to leave. I raised myself from the chair and told Brendon to put his coat on. I felt very awkward but also relieved.

“Thank you everyone for your time and I look forward to the first official meeting soon.”He slowly and calmly adjusted his suit jacket and put on his overcoat before walking over to shake Mr. Fothergill’s hand.
We walked out of the room and down the stairs in silence. When we got to the car park Brendon turned to his Father and said “Owned Dad, you totally owned them.  That was joke.”