Society creates round holes for children to fit in. We see it in schools. There are expectations of what a child of a certain age should be able to do: sit still in a classroom environment and keep quiet, listen for great lengths of time and absorb information, concentrate whilst thirty children chatter around you, get home and start on a pile of homework.
When they don’t meet that expectation, they get a label stuck on their forehead and we hear from their teacher that our child has concentration issues, our child drifts off when they should be doing their maths, our child has anger issues, our child is hyper because at the age of four he can’t sit perfectly still and listen for fifteen minutes.
When our children won’t fit nicely and uniformly in the pre-made round hole we start looking for answers. We look at the square peg we are trying to fit in the hole. That is surely where the issues lies, and not with the round hole we expect every child to uniformly squeeze in to. We try and smooth down the edges of the square peg.
My HSC was the perfect child in school. Listened when he should listen. Carried out the tasks set. Didn’t put his head above the parapet. But when he got home he was a ball of stress and anger from holding in his emotions all day, from taking in all the noise and busyness of a classroom for hours at a time without respite. This pent up emotion came out daily in a series of prolonged meltdowns where he was lost to us completely. We couldn’t reach him inside those tantrums which came out of nowhere. He was also physically ill for long periods, unable to shake off regular childhood cold and flu viruses. So we sought help beyond the deaf ears of his teachers and school.
I explained to a paediatrician that my son is a HSC, that the classroom environment is too much, that we, that he, needed help portioning out his emotions, tips to help him get his feelings out at school instead of saving them for his trusted home environment. He needed to feel less stress in his little body. We needed help to stop his bucket filling so quickly every day – and most importantly we wanted to be able to help him empty his bucket in a safe, non aggressive way. But the idea of being a HSC was almost instantly dismissed. Yes, it may be a factor but that wasn’t the issue.
So there were blood tests. Physical exams. A referral to a child psychologist who did an IQ test with him, observed him in the classroom, tested for autism, ADHD and any other series of initials you could care to come up with.
There were boxes on forms that needed to be checked. And HSC wasn’t one of them. And when round after round of testing was finished it was declared that maybe he was acting up out of jealousy because he had two brothers to contend with for attention after four years as an only child. Maybe he was just trying it on so he didn’t have to go to school.
Or maybe he simply didn’t fit in one of the many boxes that sat on a therapists or paediatrician’s checklist.
Maybe, just maybe, he’s a HSC and there is nothing actually wrong with him. He doesn’t have a disorder. Or a behavioural problem. Or a medical issue. And it was not about jealousy. He didn’t need a box ticked on a form. He needed someone to tell him he’s okay, he needed someone to give him tips on how to empty his overflowing bucket, how to get peace in his mind whilst there was chatter all around him. He needed help with feeling stress which came out in the form of physical illnesses. But he wasn’t offered any of that because neither a paediatrician nor a therapist could tick a box on their forms.
Maybe school was trying to squeeze him into a round hole when actually what he needed was a square hole. Or his own individual shaped hole. Maybe he needed to be treated like the individual that he is. Maybe he needed his teachers to listen to him when he told them how exhausted he was. Maybe the sarcastic comments back that he should go to bed weren’t actually what he needed. Maybe he needed a little understanding when he relayed that the noise in the classroom was making him ‘full’.
At the end of months of testing and expense we got to hear that they couldn’t actually find anything wrong with our child. And I made it very clear that I knew that from the beginning. It wasn’t why we came for help. We never came looking for a root cause for the meltdowns, for the stress because we knew the cause. And yet still, those we asked to help us were only interested in being able to tick off a box on a checklist. That’s how the system works. But not all children fit neatly in a box on a checklist, and as a society we need to stop expecting them to.
There is change in the air. People like Elaine Aron and Susan Cain are helping to forge a path through the general misconception that you need to be loud, extrovert and tough to be a success in life. People like Aron and Cain are rocking the boat and showing us all that it is those round holes we try and stick everyone into that need to change – and not the beautiful square pegs that don’t neatly fit into them.
I am the proud mother of more than one square peg. In fact, I am a square peg myself. And I am immensely thankful that my child doesn’t come close to ticking a box on a therapist’s checklist.