Jack: My Boy, My Son, My Life
Expecting the expected, achieving gold— S. Roberts
As every parent knows, choosing the right secondary school for his or her child is very challenging. I remember saying to my husband six years ago, “We need to get this right, because if Jack is happy in school, I am happy in work, and the family benefits from us both being able to work.”
I was asked in 2011 by the local education authority which special school I would be applying to for my 10-year-old son, Jack. I had already begun a scoping exercise the previous year of potential mainstream schools for my son. I wrote a report detailing the responses of the face-to-face meetings I had arranged and attended. I was asked to attend a meeting at the local education authority to explain my decision upon the choice of school as a result of this report.
An introduction to Jack:
My son Jack is 16 years old. He has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and severe language receptive disorder. Jack has a wonderful personality and he is naturally kind in nature. He is very polite and has amazing qualities and skills.
My son attended a mainstream school, which was out of the local education authority. He received 20 hours of support via a statement of special educational needs, which was a combination of group tuition and one to one. The school had a separate building within the school called The Raising Achievement Centre (RAC), which was accessible to all children regardless of ability who required additional support. This center was Jack’s lifeline throughout his five years of secondary education. He would eat his meals there, complete homework after school there and more importantly socialize with his friends there. Jack would attend lessons within other parts of the school but would always gravitate back to the RAC.
Jack was very much included in all aspects of school life with reasonable adjustments being made as and when necessary. He maintained 100% attendance and punctuality throughout the five years and was always happy to attend.
Jack had predicted (F) GCSE grades in all subjects starting year 7, however as a parent, my priority was for Jack to develop social and life skills.
I chose the particular school because environmentally it met Jacks needs as it was designed into small buildings, which replicated his primary school. This aided the transition process for Jack as it meant he was not being over stimulated by people, noise and building size. Jack would learn behavior by observing his peers and copying their behavior. I was aware that the school had an excellent reputation and Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) inspection and staff were available during the many requests to visit.
Jack progressed through the school meeting all his required targets (F), and on some occasions, exceeding them. He received achiever of the month for recognition for his hard work and development.
Jacks grades were improving steadily by the end of year 10 but not quite getting into the A-C bands. My husband and I were just so happy that Jack was completing a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GSCE) course.
During the revision period leading up to the GSCE’s, I had a decision to make, do I develop a revision timetable for Jack to study when he feels like studying, or produce a timetable that will challenge him? I decided to start with a timetable that would challenge Jack because if I had of asked Jack “Do you want to study?” he would have replied “I’m not sure.”
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We started the timetable with 20-minute study sessions twice an evening. Jack would constantly be looking at the clock and asking “Are we done yet?” This was challenging for Jack and myself as the weeks moved on because Jack became very anxious and distressed at times. I felt that this possibly was not the right way to proceed but deep down I did not want to give up and asked myself is it about Jack or me. Towards the weeks prior to the exams, we were unable to keep up the studying pace as the thought of calling Jack to study was becoming stressful for Jack and myself. We slowed down to 20-minute sessions to four times a week and a couple at the weekend as it was now about managing Jacks anxiety. The school was excellent and communicated regularly with me on how Jack was coping.
The weeks of the examinations, Jack, although was nervous and anxious, continued to get up for school and we would go through what subjects he would be sitting and the times he would come home, all this as very important to him.
Jack managed to complete all the examinations and was rewarded with a trip out to his favorite shop, LEGO.
Jack had a great summer off from study, however, we had to have difficult conversations about what was next for Jack. We visited many sixth form colleges which was interesting as Jacks predicted grades meant that he would not be eligible for A levels however as he had completed GCSE’s he was too advanced for foundation years. There didn’t seem an in between option.
Two colleges offered Jack a place depending upon his grades so it was a waiting game with no clear information to alleviate Jacks worries of where he may be attending come September.
The big day arrived, 25th August 2016. We decided not to go into school as soon as it was open; we thought it would be better with less people there. Jack was very nervous and was extremely anxious. We had already gone through the process with Jack many times that he would stand in line, collect his envelope and his results would be inside. As Jack received his envelope, we found a quite place for him to open however he was pleased to see his maths teacher, form teacher and headmaster who all came over to share this experience with Jack. The suspense seemed to last forever as Jack did not have an urgency to open his envelope. Eventually he did and put the letter down on the table. We asked him what did it say and he said, “I’m not sure.” His Headmaster read out Jacks results and declared that Jack had achieved two B’s and five C’s at GCSE.
Jack had the biggest smile on his face that was priceless. My husband has tears of joy in his eyes and I began to cry. Jack had not only achieved the unexpected, he achieved gold.
Jack is now studying science at a sixth form college. The transition was turbulent, however, with the help and support of the staff there, he has settled in and remains to have 100% attendance and is doing well.
It was never about Jack being academic, it was about Jack reaching his full learning potential which he is still achieving at a rate of knots.
Sharon Roberts is the mother of a 16-year-old boy with autism. She is also mother to two other children, a 27-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter. She lives with her husband and many family pets. Sharon works as a lecturer at a local university and is studying for a PhD. She has written this short piece with pride and admiration for all her children and their individual achievements.
This article was featured in Issue 62 – Motherhood: An Enduring Love