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Behaviour at Secondary School

(35 Posts)
holdinghands Sun 07-Jun-15 23:11:15

I was wondering if anyone could give me some advice? My 12 year old started secondary school last September and has found it really hard to settle in. None of his primary friends are in his classes and he is very shy and sensitive and for the 1st 2 weeks was in the sick bay every day except one. Since then he has got in a bit of bother with the school for minor misbehaving, talking in class, pulling pupils jackets and basically winding people up. The teachers also said that he has got annoyed at people who make fun of him (he has a slight stutter) which has led to him losing his temper but nothing physical. Because of this I've had phone calls, a meeting, him on report and a detention. Then I got a call saying he was being suspended for 2 days because he was dared to smack a girl on the bottom and he did it. It's my belief this is down to him trying to make friends by making people laugh and messing about, trying to get people to like him. I had no problems while he was in primary school in fact the teachers all loved him and still ask after him. My concern is that he is being punished and possibly labelled as a bad child when he is just trying to settle in. It is a grammar school and is very strict and I know they want to stamp out bad behaviour straight away but I feel he needs support not punishment, (although i myself have punished him for each thing he has done). Am I wrong and looking at him through a mothers eyes or should I stand up for him with the school? I'm so confused and worried he will start dreading going to school and this could affect him emotionally as well as his work at school. Sorry for rambling!

adoptmama Mon 08-Jun-15 08:09:30

I think you have been supportive. You've gone to meetings, supported the detentions, punished at home etc. So I wouldn't worry about coming across as unsupportive to the school. However I also wouldn't call what he is doing 'trying to settle in' as it is almost the end of the school year. It does sound as if he has got himself into a pattern of bad behaviour and poor choices. Clearly it is highly unacceptable - whether dared or not - to smack a girl in this way, and if it were my daughter (or if it happened in one of my classes) I would be furious.

Even if none of his primary friends are in his form class I assume that he will be having some lessons with them - PE and subjects where they are set. Perhaps the issue is more that his old friends have moved on into new friendship groups and he is struggling to find where he fits in? I certainly think it is well worth your time asking for a meeting with the head of pastoral or with his from tutor and laying out your worries. They will be able to tell you whether he is socially isolated or not and, if he is, they should be able to offer some supportive strategies to try to help him improve his social skills.

Try to keep the communication channels open with your son too as, approaching the teen years, boys can become uncommunicative. And carry on supporting the schools punishments when he does make poor choices and explain to him why he also needs to change his behaviours.

adoptmama Mon 08-Jun-15 08:12:32

It also might be worth looking at how he is coping academically. Is he finding the move to grammar academically demanding? If so - and like many other boys - he may be masking his academic difficulties and fears through his bad behaviour. Boys often adopt behaviours which will allow them to 'choose' to fail rather than being seen by peers as trying and failing - better to 'fail deliberately' than 'fail because you are stupid' is their way of thinking. Finally is there any speech therapy available to help him improve with his stutter so that he has one less thing to be a trigger issue?

holdinghands Mon 08-Jun-15 09:29:31

Thank you for your reply. He has seen a speech therapist but she believes his stutter isn't serious enough for any treatment. I have phoned the school to speak to his form teacher so I will ask about any social isolation, thank you for that suggestion. Yes he has friends he can meet up with at lunch but a good friend has made 2 new friends that don't like my son and apparently call him 'gay' so he feels he can't meet up with him anymore. I am thinking of sending my son to the school counsellor to see if that helps. I think I'm just so confused because this behaviour is so out of character and these issues have only arisen since he started the school.

Goldmandra Mon 08-Jun-15 10:02:35

I think you need to consider whether your DS could be on the Autism Spectrum. I'm thinking High Functioning Autism/Asperger's which can present very subtly.

The limited amount of behaviour you've described could be a child who has suddenly found himself out of his depth with a whole raft of new social rules he doesn't understand, demands on him to cope in a bigger, busier environment perhaps where he has to put a lot more energy into organising himself and thinking tasks through.

Your thoughts about trying to make friends by making people laugh would definitely fit.

Even if he doesn't have AS, it may be that strategies for explaining social rules to young people with the condition could help him.

I wouldn't punish any more. If he is struggling socially and feeling stressed, what he needs is someone on his side to explain things and help him find ways to relax, not sanctions. Having tried to do something funny and failed that dramatically was punishment enough.

holdinghands Mon 08-Jun-15 10:11:38

Goldmandra I had never considered any sort of autism, could that really be an option? And how would I go about any testing?

Goldmandra Mon 08-Jun-15 10:23:53

You need to read about it first. Google Professor Tony Attwood who has written a lot about it. If you start reading and think it's worth pursuing, his book The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome is excellent.

Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder, which means it affects lots of areas of a child's development, not just one. Social skills is clearly an issue for your DS and you describe him as shy and sensitive so, depending on what you mean by that, he may have difficulties in other areas which as relevant.

There's a forum for parents of children with Autism called ASD Friendly which is free to join and very helpful. It was a life saver for me when my academically able, shy and sensitive DD1 fell to pieces on starting high school and Asperger's was first mentioned. They have an excellent closed facebook group you can join once you're on the main forum. You could get a feel on there for whether Autism is something that could fit your DS.

If his difficulties persist or escalate, or you think it is worth investigating Autism, you can ask your GP or the school nurse to refer him to a community paediatrician or CAMHS depending on protocols in your area.

wishihadacat Mon 08-Jun-15 11:00:43

When I was teaching in secondary school I saw this a lot. Adoptmama is right.
Naughty students are usually students who feel that they aren't doing that well one way or another. They feel they can't succeed doing what they should be doing and look for ways to struggle against that and get some other kind of success and self esteem outcome, (albeit not always ones that others would see as success!)

In my experience success in legitimate activities leading to positive self esteem can remove the need for naughtiness. Students who are enjoying achieving something: sport inside or outside school, achieving academically, getting recognition in school plays and musicals, showing rabbits, air cadets, scouts, etc. - anything really - feel less need to act the 'tough guy' as their need for respect is getting met and keeping their confidence up. It also makes them happy!

So if your son has a sport or hobby, whatever it is, supporting him doing it (taking him to meetings or training, staying to watch, etc) and gaining achievements - certificates, competitions, teams etc. is important. I know there's already a lot to do and this upset at school drains emotional energy, and there's homework etc but it can be a good way to go.

adoptmama Mon 08-Jun-15 11:05:39

Whilst it is not impossible for a child to get to age 12 without being identified or diagnosed on the Autistic spectrum it would be very unusual to get to this point without you having had some inkling something was wrong. If you have never had concerns then I don't think you need to worry too much about this. If your son was able to engage in the normal creative play of early childhood, is not restrictive in his interests, has normal eye contact and normal friendships in primary school then it is highly unlikely that he is ASD. Most children, even those diagnosed late, will have had concerns flagged for years before by teachers, parents and other professionals. Please do not worry unnecessarily.

bigmouthstrikesagain Mon 08-Jun-15 11:22:15

With respect Adoptmama - it is not unusual for HF Autistic childdren to very ably mask their issues at primary school and function well. As for parental suspicions - if the child is the eldest then without other experience to go on - separating 'normal' from 'abnormal' behaviour can be hard. My ds is not diagnosed AS (nearly 11), but since my younger dd has been diagnosed it is clear he is very probably on the spectrum too, he struggles with aspects of school/ team work/ some aspects of socialising/ crowded events. Academically he is very able, but it has become clear that interventions from the SEN team are necessary. He is being treated in the same way as a child with a diagnosis of HFA would and it is helpful for him.

So it is wrong to dismiss the suggestion that this could be an avenue for the OP to explore. If she reads up on the subject and thinks it might be helpful.

adoptmama Mon 08-Jun-15 11:35:44

I didn't dismiss it - I simply said it would be unusual to get to this age without there being prior concerns about his social skills in particular. I have spent over 20 years working with ASD children in mainstream secondary education and it is unusual in this day and age for a child to come through from Primary without there being previous concerns expressed over his or her rigidity in routines, social skills etc. There are red flags though which I highlighted, and if he showed none of these in his early years, (and the OP will know when she thinks back whether he did or not) then I simply advised her to try not to worry unnecessarily.

The overwhelming majority of boys of this age who struggle in school do not do so because of ASD but because of other academic or social issues. Therefore, as a matter of keeping things in perspective, the OP needs to simply consider, if she feels it necessary, what the red flags are that professionals (teachers, ed psychs, doctors etc) would refer to. I did not 'dismiss' the possibility but simply reassured the OP that she doesn't need to become overly worried. As an experienced educationalist I do know it is not the most likely cause of her son's difficulties.

holdinghands Mon 08-Jun-15 11:57:30

Thank you for all your advice, there's a lot to think about! There have been no concerns ever raised, only comments about him being "a sensitive soul". For example, in the last year of primary a friend fell in the playground and cut his head open and according to a teacher he was "sobbing". He has also cried because he's worried about his sister going to the school and having problems and again when he was talking about the end of year exams and maybe moving down in classes (he's in the top class). Like I said, he is shy but is easily wound up and upset, he cries easily. I have spoken to his form tutor who has said she sees no sign of problems with interaction and he always seems part of a group. Her concern was when he has a problem with other students he reacts rather than walking away and informing a teacher. I think that could be he doesn't want to tell tales, although when I asked about the boys who were calling him gay, he said he was too scared to tell anyone in case it made them angry. I am awaiting a call from the VP to get her take on things. Thank you again everyone, it comforting to know people are here for advice.

Goldmandra Mon 08-Jun-15 13:35:36

If your son was able to engage in the normal creative play of early childhood, is not restrictive in his interests, has normal eye contact and normal friendships in primary school then it is highly unlikely that he is ASD.

It often isn't until you read around AS and look back that you realise that your child's normal wasn't quite the same as other people's. I've heard this from lots of other parents and experienced it myself, twice.

I know there posters who get wound up by what they perceive as internet diagnosis but I did only suggest that the OP considered the possibility and read around the disorder and also that it might be a good source of strategies to help her DS even if a diagnosis isn't appropriate.

Can a please just suggest that you refer to children as having Autism rather than being it? For any child with a diagnosis, it is only a part of them and their lives. It isn't helpful for people to use it to define them.

mummytime Mon 08-Jun-15 14:12:42

"Can a please just suggest that you refer to children as having Autism rather than being it? For any child with a diagnosis, it is only a part of them and their lives. It isn't helpful for people to use it to define them."

Sorry Goldmandra but this is not necessarily correct - the problem is parents of children with ASD tend to prefer the term "person having Autism" however some people who are Autistic strongly prefer "person who is Autistic" because it is a fundamental part of who they are.

On the other hand, I totally agree that If your son was able to engage in the normal creative play of early childhood, is not restrictive in his interests, has normal eye contact and normal friendships in primary school then it is highly unlikely that he is ASD. Is very very bad advice - I know lots of people diagnosed in their teenage years and adulthood, who at the time you wouldn't have thought they particularly had issues in social situations in the primary years.
But in retrospect: a) they did have some difficulties but not really out of the "normal" range; b) they were good at masking until the social situations got more complex as they got older; and c) their eccentricities were less tolerated among new people who didn't know them.

OP I would request from the school that they put a programme in place to help him with social skills and understanding. I would also go to the GP and ask for a referral for help with his social understanding/behaviour; you are looking to be referred to CAMHS or a paediatrician.

Goldmandra Mon 08-Jun-15 15:25:01

some people who are Autistic strongly prefer "person who is Autistic" because it is a fundamental part of who they are.

Fair comment. I was object to the reference to a child being ASD, i.e. being a disorder. The child could be white, tall, sporty, kind and autistic. That makes sense. However no child is an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

PolterGoose Mon 08-Jun-15 16:02:55

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

holdinghands Mon 08-Jun-15 21:23:02

Just to update, I spoke to the VP who has blamed it on his hormones! I'm more confused than ever now as I have worried myself sick all weekend imagining my son becoming a school dropout and serial criminal/drug addict. I have asked for him to see the school counsellor so we will set that up once he is back. Maybe that will throw some light on things. In the meantime I will read up on some of the suggestions.

mummytime Mon 08-Jun-15 23:06:39

I would go and see your GP and try to get a referral which can take quite a while. If it all blows over before you get to see someone you can give up your waiting list place.

Goldmandra Mon 08-Jun-15 23:06:51

I'm more confused than ever now as I have worried myself sick all weekend imagining my son becoming a school dropout and serial criminal/drug addict.

It's so easy to imagine the worst. My DD1 missed a whole year of school when she first fell to pieces aged 12 and I was convinced that was the end of her education. It wasn't. She's just waiting for her exam results to find out which university she's going to in the Autumn to study Biomedical Sciences smile

I'm not convinced by the hormones suggestion. It doesn't really explain his difficulty understanding what is and isn't socially appropriate behaviour. I guess they could make his reactions to other pupils a little more volatile but that's about it.

Your DS sounds like a basically good lad who is struggling for some reason and needs some support at the moment. Why he needs that support is for you and the school to figure out but, my guess is that, once you have and he has what he needs, he'll settle down again PDQ.

holdinghands Mon 08-Jun-15 23:39:47

Thank you so much everyone and Goldmandra congratulations regarding your DD1, that's fantastic news!

I have to say I was surprised by the hormone explanation. She also seemed to play down the situation, the suspension was down to the number of times he's been in trouble and not specifically the last incident. She told me not to get "too excited" by it and when i asked what the next step would be if he got in to trouble again she said she didn't think he would. I sincerely hope she's right! She did point out that she felt he overstepped boundaries when in new situations.

Mummytime, I will be making an appointment with the doctor in the morning. After a lot of reading on the internet I'm still none the wiser, as apart from the socially (in)appropriate behaviour, there doesn't seem to be anything else that strikes a chord. Can autism only show in one particular area? I'm hoping the doctor can give me more advice. Thanks to all the help on here I'm certainly feeling slightly more positive and a lot more relieved.

mummytime Tue 09-Jun-15 06:19:09

What I would suggest is you just ask the GP for a referral and describe his struggles understanding what is socially appropriate, you can also mention anything else that is a bit OTT eg. sobbing when his friend was mildly hurt. I would also mention his extreme distress and anxiety when he started this school - spending so much time in the sick bay.

I would also suggest that you start to keep a diary, noting down things as you observe them. Also recording incidents from his earlier childhood that you remember (and try to record/remember when he reached milestones eg. talking, walking, any worries at development reviews).
Does he have/has he had problems with new things, changes to plans?
Can you have a conversation with him? Does he use some phrases over and over?
Does he have special interests?
Are there ever surprises about his intelligence? He's obviously clever (to be in Grammar school) but has he struggled with any areas of learning?
Is he anxious about school? Has he talked about dying?
Has he had a lot of headaches/stomach bugs?
Does his behaviour change in the holidays?
What does he find more stressful the routine of termtime or the flexibility of holidays?
Does he restrict what he will eat?
etc. etc. etc.

Actually though, I do think giving him a 2 day suspension was overly harsh. The incident whilst needing to be cracked down on, wasn't that bad (and my DCs go to a very strict school). Also has he been in isolation at school before this incident?

I would also request talking to the SENCO and seeing what support they can offer.

BTW when my son was diagnosed with dyslexia, the statistic that ran through my head was "50% of prisoners have dyslexia", so you are not alone.

Goldmandra Tue 09-Jun-15 08:10:26

Can autism only show in one particular area?

You can certainly have difficulties in common with people with Autism in just one area, i.e. just one trait but a diagnosis of Autism is only given when there are difficulties in several areas of development.

Sometimes that are other traits but they are hard to recognise. My DD1 seemed to play normally with her peers in the school playground but, when CAMHS explored this with her, she said she always had to take the role of the baby because that meant she didn't have to work out what to do; the children playing the parents roles would tell her. It turned out that she had hated those games and always felt incompetent playing them but carried on because that was the only thing to do. She would have preferred to take a book into the playground but, if she did that, the staff used to badger her to play with the others.

DD1 has a deep interest but it's horses so it's perceived as normal. She was happy to forego time with her peers to be with horses and found it impossible to join in with the other teenaged girls who hung around at the stables. She didn't want to interact with them. She just wanted to get on with looking after the horses. I didn't realise this was unusual behaviour until CAMHS pointed it out.

Sometimes the other traits just aren't there and only one area of difficulty is highlighted. If that's the case for your DS, he probably still needs help in that area and strategies for supporting teenagers with Autism might help him. There are books you can buy that explain social rules and how to apply them. Also, debriefing conversations after incidents which look in detail at what happened and the reasons behind people's behaviour can help, especially if you can work out a subtlety of a social rule that your DS is misunderstanding.

holdinghands Tue 09-Jun-15 09:31:58

I have to say I'm doubtful any diagnosis will be made as I'm struggling to find any other 'unusual' behaviour traits. He has no deep interests, just the xbox (!) He is bright but prefers factual subjects like maths, science, Spanish and isn't very creative, he struggles with art and his handwriting is atrocious! He also has problems with organisation, he's not the tidiest of children! He eats fine, just the usual preferences for kids his age, chicken goujons but not roast chicken etc. I haven't noticed any worries regarding change or disruption to routine. Yes he is anxious about school, I take him in every day before work as he said a boy was picking on him on the bus, and after one incident, as he got out of the car I told him to be good and I noticed him wiping his eyes as he walked away. I stopped him and asked what was wrong and he started crying and said he was worried he was going to get into trouble again. He worries a lot about letting me down.

The only concern I have is how emotional he is. He has an older bother who can wind him up and his response to it is to shout and storm off or burst into tears, or both. He is very empathetic and worries about others which is why his behaviour at school is so concerning. He accidentally stood on our dog's paw one day and the dog yelped and he burst into tears.

One thing I will say is, when I ask him why he did something wrong he always answers "I don't know". He does genuinely seem confused by what's happening. I gave him a talk after the last incident and then asked him what he thought about what had happened and he started repeating back to me what I had said.

Like I said, I really can't pinpoint anything other than emotion.

mummytime Tue 09-Jun-15 10:37:11

It may not be "Autism" but the thing he needs help with is: Yes he is anxious about school, I take him in every day before work as he said a boy was picking on him on the bus, and after one incident, as he got out of the car I told him to be good and I noticed him wiping his eyes as he walked away. I stopped him and asked what was wrong and he started crying and said he was worried he was going to get into trouble again. He worries a lot about letting me down.

This is exactly the kind of thing that CAMHS should be helping with. Unfortunately their ability to help in different areas differs widely, so they may not actually be the best people to help, but either they or a paediatrician should be able to help, and strengthen your case that the school needs to put in accommodations to help him cope.

My DD often answers "I don't know" and if you ask her how she feels it is worse (and can lead to a meltdown), because she really struggles with the thinking needed to be able to understand her emotions nevermind other peoples, and can't always match up cause with effect. Eg. Why do people get annoyed when I talk over them as they are having a conversation? Or why did that girl cry when I said she was a bit fatter than last year? Or....

The crying when others are hurt is a big sign, that needs to be discussed with a trained professional.

When my DD first saw CAMHS both her and I had suspected ASD, but she didn't seem to "fit". In an interview with me consciously not "helping" her - it seemed to be a very obvious possibility. Still her teachers didn't think it fitted her, but as they filled in questionnaires, they increasingly recognised the pattern. And I was fortunate the class teacher's could see the pattern, I know friends had real issues with the class teacher for their son, who couldn't, even though on the surface he seems more "obvious" than my daughter.

But it may not be ASD for your son, but just "social anxiety" is a real issue and professional help and support, will help you argue for the support and help your son needs at school. It will also help stop him being inappropriately punished.

holdinghands Tue 09-Jun-15 11:03:27

You're right mummytime, I think I was getting hung up on a "name" for what's happening, I guess I thought if it's labelled then there would be a solution. I have made a Dr's appointment for later in the week. Should I say anything to the school in the meantime or is it best to wait until I get more answers? And what will I do if the Dr disagrees with me? Can I push it? Sorry for all the questions but I've never been in this position before and I'm unsure of how to handle it. I will definitely use the term "social anxiety" that sums things up very well.

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