Year Two – Sol’s at School!

It’s been some time since my last blog post. Sol is now 7 years old and started at EtonHouse Malaysia International School in August 2019. So he has had one full year (including lockdown online learning) away from homeschooling. This school runs from kindergarten up to Year 6. It’s a small school with a concerted focus on inclusivity, even if they don’t have all the fanciest resources compared to other International Schools in Malaysia.

We based Sol’s success in school being a) how enthusiastic he was to go everyday b) the level of communication that was given to us in relation to Sol in the classroom c) what individual support was offered to Sol and d) did Sol make any friends?

And we are happy to say that we have a resounding YES to all those questions.

Sol started in a Year One classroom even though he had completed a Year One program at home. We discussed with the school that we felt a successful start for Sol would be where he felt comfortable with the learning and that if the need arose, we would move him on to Year Two after 6 months. Sol’s Homeroom teacher and Assistant teacher were both amazing with Sol – so loving, caring and fun. This made going to school every day a non-issue. Sol knew that he was cared for in the classroom.

Sol’s teachers and the Inclusive Team held meetings with us to discuss Sol’s progress and goals. They asked us what goals we felt were important for Sol and we believe that Sol’s social progress should be a priority. Sol still struggles somewhat to translate facial expressions, vocal tone and body language in other children. This sometimes causes him to become more sensitive to a situation that is probably NO BIG DEAL or read the wrong cues and respond in a way that seems “off topic”. Sol does realise when he has messed up and attempts to fix the situation and this can occasionally make it even worse! You’ve seen the comedies where the comedian is trying to gain the attention of the love-interest and goes from bad to worse – that can be Sol too!

The individual support that Sol was able to access at school academically, was to swap his Mandarin classroom hours with extra literacy hours – this was GOLD! We saw Sol’s reading progress really well with this support. Granted we also spend time with him at home reading (and now it’s everyday), the fact the school was so flexible to his needs, without adding extra hours to his school day was appreciated.

As the school has such a strong inclusivity policy, this meant Sol was able to make friends in the classroom and maintain those friendships outside of the classroom. He still has a standing playdate with one of his buddies that has since left EHM. Sol is now in Year 2 and while he doesn’t yet have his one special buddy, he talks positively about a lot of the kids in his class and gets on with most of them.

School is a bit different under Restricted Movement Order – no outdoor play/recess and very structured movement around the school but it’s a relief to know that Sol is back in school, safe, learning and happy. Long may it last! Not the lockdown part of course……..

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HELLO! I’m a human

While this blog focuses on Sol and his superpower, dyspraxia, there are events and interactions in Sol’s daily life that also make me think about what it means to be human on a wider scale.

After a wonderful month in Bali, resting and connecting with my kids for their summer break, I observed the following scenario multiple times.

SOL to fellow human of indiscriminate age: “Hello!”

Fellow Human to Sol: …………………….. (that’s silence, as in no response – no hello, no hi, just a stare)

SOL: “Hello!”

Fellow Human turns away.

I’ve paused from writing here for a moment to collect my emotions on what I’ve just written because despite the fact this was a few weeks back, thinking about it leaves me with a mash up of feeling. And my key questions are:

When did we stop saying HELLO to one another?

If another stranger (child or adult) said HELLO to you, do you say HELLO back?

Are your initial thoughts “That’s weird! A complete stranger just said HELLO to me?

So in the context of Sol’s dyspraxia, he hasn’t mastered “reading” human emotions or body language or “learnt” to be shy and not to interact with strangers. (Note to self, need to talk to him about “stranger danger”). He completely understands when someone is displeased or angry and seems to experience strong emotion from this. The paradox of a highly sensitive child who struggles to master the social “norms”.

Sol will enter an environment and assume that everyone is good and they are waiting to see him/play with him. He will walk up to any child and say “Hello!”, not “Hi!, a confident boisterous “Hello!”. Nine out of ten children from the age of 5 years and above will ignore Sol or walk away. And the one child that responds positively ends up playing with him for hours. Eight out of ten adults will also not respond to Sol’s greeting.

When did we stop saying “Hello”? I only have my personal thoughts on this and I’m assuming that there is a certain level of inappropriateness to starting up a conversation with a complete stranger. So here is when I think I might not say “Hello” to another human:

  • Walking in a dark alley and man approaches me.
  • Sitting in a bar waiting for my friend and man sits next to me.
  • Standing in the mosh pit at a concert with sweaty humans pushed up against me.

In the interests of actually finishing this blog post, I have to move on as I found it really hard to think of anymore, but if you know of some examples, please leave comments!

Here are some examples of me initiating conversation with strangers EVERY DAY

  • Every time I teach a fitness class, I will walk up to the new person in the class and say “Hello”.
  • I say Hello to every service person – cafe, petrol pump human, receptionist, immigration officer – everyone.

Instead of blaming Sol’s friendliness on his inability to conform with social norms, I’m going to blame it on genetics – he got it from me! And I also don’t care when fellow humans don’t respond back. I don’t start thinking “What’s wrong with me? Why don’t they like me?”. I carry on with my day, as happy as Larry – yeah, who is Larry anyway?

And I search Sol’s face to see if he is sad or hurt by the lack of response and NOPE, he moves on! Searching out the next human that will connect with him and inevitably end up having a great conversation or some decent adventure in the playground.

To give more transparency to how dyspraxia DOES in fact affect social interaction within what we consider normal, here are the examples:

  • Dislikes playing sports with other kids. Dyspraxia is primarily a motor co-ordination issue and therefore physical activity and coordinating the body to learn new skills is more challenging for people with dyspraxia. Sol has been very active and in physical therapy since he was a baby so he’s doing pretty well here and right now, he doesn’t shy away from sports with kids.
  • Struggle to pay attention to the point of being diagnosed with ADHD. Dyspraxia affects “processing” – ordering your thoughts. This affects someone with dyspraxia when they need to remember the order of events or tasks. This can be managed by making lists, notes and lots of preparation.
  • Difficult to understand – as dyspraxia affects the coordination of the mouth, words sometimes sound muffled or unclear. For children, this sets them up for ridicule as they “sound” different. Sol has had speech therapy for 4 years and while his pronunciation can occasionally be challenged, he’s doing pretty well. Volume and pitch can also be affected.
  • Seems immature – children with dyspraxia tend to lag behind on developing appropriate social “norms” (I fucking hate that word now). But it all works out in the wash. Either they become more normal……..or they go on to be the next Harry Potter!
  • Is often anxious – as they need to make more decisions, this can raise their levels of anxiety. I’m not seeing this in Sol at all and I believe this might be in part to having him home schooled for a year.
  • Dyspraxia is NOT an intellectual disability.

I appreciate that the world has Extroverts and Introverts and that I have a higher chance of a naturally Extroverted person responding than an Introverted person. I can accept this. But I had noticed that more and more, we are using our phones to “hide” and therefore shut down any chance of connecting with another human. While we are “connected”, we are not. While I’m connected to searching for the latest trend on Spanx on my handheld device, I’m disconnected from the humans sitting across from me, walking past me, from making any eye contact, from starting a conversation, from potentially having a life changing moment with another human.

So my challenge to you, in the interests of connecting with another human that you don’t already know, is to say “Hello” to a complete random stranger. I recommend that you smile at the same time so they know it’s them you are greeting. The world needs more “HELLO” givers. Truly!