My name is Ellen O’Neill and I have taught at the local primary school for 4 years. I enjoy my job but I do get concerned by some of the children – like James for example. He is just so ‘odd’. He is really very difficult to get to know and seems to drift through the day without ever quite being part of it. He’s in a little world of his own.
At first I thought it was just me – not all children get on with all teachers – but I’m usually pretty good at relating to them. I noticed that James doesn’t seem to have any close friends in school, but some children are quieter than others and he doesn’t seem upset – just, well - disconnected. In class it’s as if me and the other children aren’t there.
James’ language ability is a bit behind what I would expect for his age but not hugely so. He is in year 6 and he struggles to express himself clearly, but it’s his way of speaking that I find so strange – kind of flat, almost mechanical. He never seems to really enjoy anything but is good at working away on his own at tasks, especially if it’s something quite structured and methodical. At least, he is until he gets stuck. Then he just gives up and moves on to something else or sits silently. He never asks for help – it’s as if he just doesn’t care. When I do try to help him with a task it’s as if he shuts down and won’t listen.
Today he had an outburst in class, something that is happening more and more with James. The children were working in pairs and making lists of things they like and dislike about our neighbourhood in preparation for writing a story about ‘where I live’. Suddenly James tore up his list and shouted out ‘this is crap’. When I tried to talk to him he just clammed up and refused to answer me but I could see he was really upset.
The Father’s story
I am Ian Atkins and I am 46 years old. My wife, Eve, is 32. We have two children, Anne who is 13 and James who is 10. Anne has a moderate learning disability and a syndrome that affects her motor skills and coordination. She attends a special school and they are very good with her, but she does need a lot of care and attention.
We moved to Carlisle 4 years ago when I got a new job and although that means that I have to work long hours it has been a good move for the whole family. The job pays well and we can afford things that we could not have done before. My dad lives in Exeter (my mum has been dead for many years) and Eve’s parents are in London so we don’t see that much of them, but to be honest I was never that close to my dad anyway and Eve was glad to get away from her parents at the earliest opportunity. She was a bit wild when we first met but soon settled down after we married.
When Anne was born it was hard because of her disabilities, but we just got on with it – you have to don’t you. It put a bit of a strain on our relationship at first but we found ways to cope. Then when James came along that was hard financially until I found the new job and we moved here. I like it here and the schools are great with the children. That’s why I was really surprised James’ school asked me to see us because he was having problems in class. I don’t understand it because he’s OK at home. It’s Anne who has the problems – always has – but that’s because of her disabilities. I don’t doubt what the school are saying. They do good work and if they think he has a problem, they must be right. I just don’t understand it.
The mother’s story
I am Eve Atkins aged 32. My husband Ian is 14 years older than me. We have two children, Anne who is 13 and James who is 10. Anne has a moderate learning disability and a syndrome that affects her motor skills and coordination. She attends a special school and they are very good with her, but she does need a lot of care and attention. When she was born everything changed. Suddenly everything was about her and her needs – it had to be. I struggled for months with difficult feelings but couldn’t really talk to anyone about it.
Ian is a good man but he works long hours and when he’s home he often tired. He never really expressed his feelings about Anne’s disability – in fact he never really says how he feels about anything. Sometimes I wonder if he has any idea how bad I feel.
When we first married I needed some stability and Ian was it but now I feel trapped. I never see anyone unless it’s about Anne’s care and I can’t remember the last time I did anything for fun.
I keep the drinking very secret and it does help me get through the day but I know it’s getting worse and that Ian will find out soon. Now the school want to see me about James – and I can’t take much more. If he is going to start being a problem too I don’t know what I will do.