Is it ever acceptable to hold a child back?

9 July 2015

Dear friend,

I love the relationship that my boys have. Sometimes I feel that they are more like best friends than brothers. I really hope that this continues. Of course they need to have their own friends and socialise with others but having each other as companions is special.

The little man adores his big brother. But having a younger sibling has helped the big lad hugely too. He has made great progress in his social and emotional development and his self confidence has improved.

I am not pretending that our life is perfect, there are also times when the gap is narrowed, when the little man is in danger of surpassing the big lad. What do you do then?

Is it ever acceptable to hold a child back?

We first encountered this problem when the little man began riding a bike. It was a race to see who would make it stabiliser free first. My husband and I felt that it would really knock the big lad's confidence if his brother surpassed him so we made a conscious decision; surely it wouldn't hurt him to have the stabilisers for a while longer. We focused our time and attention on the big lad and got him riding stabiliser free first.

Next came the swimming conflict. The big lad has been having lessons for 3 years. The little man started lessons in September and progressed through groups really quickly. The fear hit. How would the big lad feel if his brother got his swim diploma first?

This is what I find most cruel and difficult about the big lad having autism. That he has to try so hard at things that come easy to others. That life for him has to be a challenge. It is not that I want life to be easy for my children but watching the big lad having to fight to achieve ordinary/normal things, I find galling.

But he never loses faith that he will do it! It is a testament to his therapists and teachers that he continues to have confidence and enjoy the lessons.

Socially the differences become more obvious as the little man gets older. The big lad often gets stressed when he begins to play with others at the park, on the bouncy castle, in the supermarket. The big lad thinks that little man is putting himself in danger by playing with strangers. The little man is doing what comes natural to him making friends, playing with others.

The conflicts for us are around social and physical development. Academically we haven't faced such problems.

What do you do when school want to hold your child back?
In the Dutch system underachieving children can repeat years. This must be an extremely difficult choice for parents to make. Especially when children have younger siblings at school. This system can be devastating for children with social and emotional problems.

The big lad is terrified of being held back. It has caused him considerable stress this year. Everytime he made a mistake or was given 'easier' work he took this as an indication that he might have to stay in group 5. Of course he didn't tell us this. We had to piece the puzzle together! We now understand why he was getting so frustrated, cross or upset! So is this system fair?

More special needs children are being integrated into 'normal' schools. Isn't it time that this system of repetitive education was reviewed?

I believe that we are putting too much pressure on children. Not all children fit into this norm, this ideal child that most schemes or teaching objectives are set to. By adhering to these methods aren't we failing to meet the needs of all our pupils (under and overachievers).

Instead of our kids having to bend to fit the system, shouldn't the system be bent to fit the kids. Isn't that what Individual Education Plans are for?

If we are to have more children with special needs supported in a 'normal' school environment then we need to ensure they are being set up to succeed and not set up for failure.

As my crystal ball is old and tarnished I can't see what the future will bring and I am relieved about that. The big lad has exceeded all of our expectations.

To be honest I don't really care if the big lad isn't the next Derek Kuyt, Andy Murray or indeed Lewis Hamilton. But I do hope that he can find a job he enjoys, make enough money to get by and meet someone who he loves and loves him back.

I think they will be many more challenges ahead. But one thing is certain...

We will face them together!

For information and help for siblings of children with special needs see the Sibs website.

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