This week is Children’s Mental Health Week. With the theme this year on “Growing Together”; the focus is on encouraging children (and adults) to consider how they have grown and how they can help others to grow.
This subject is close to my heart on SO many levels. As a survivor of childhood abuse and a parent to 2 x beautifully neurodivergent boys, it isn’t just one week a year that we celebrate growing together, we are living it, together 24/7.
My eldest son is 12 years old and suffers from social anxiety and agoraphobia. These mental health conditions are as a result of a neurological condition that is complex and difficult to navigate. For many years he was able to tolerate the world around him, but when he reached secondary school, it all became too much. The impact this has had on his life is SO limiting. If you compare it to an average 12 year old’s life it is a world apart. (So we don’t compare). But even though he struggles to leave the house and interact with the wider world, he continues to grow in character, knowledge and humour every day. His special interests fuel his days. He shows love, compassion and empathy for his animals, family and friends, and although some could argue that he’s missing out on so much in life, he is making the very best of it right now. There is so much more I would love to say about his (and our) journey but it is not my story to tell. All I can say is that despite adverse conditions, he continues to grow and it is a joy to witness simple moments and breakthroughs.
Our youngest son J is 8 years old and shows traits of neurodiversity, similar to his older brother. However, he is battling on with school, and is significantly growing in independence and resilience. He suffers from sensory issues, anxiety, compulsive behaviours and intrusive thoughts but is remarkably astute and is able to recognise and verbalise these experiences. He is also willing to apply helpful techniques. As part of this self awareness, he knows what helps him when he is feeling anxious. His “thing” is story telling.
During lockdown we bought him a blank comic book. Pages and pages of comic style layouts with blank spaces to fill with his stories.
And so “The Igs” were born. Pig, Dig, Jig, Fig, Big and Wig fell out of his imagination and onto the pages. He spends hours developing these characters. Stories of combat, comedy and chaos. Each night, before bed, he’ll invite us to sit and listen as he narrates and divulges how “The Igs” have been navigating their way through lands of pizza, friendship and fall-outs.
He shows us his comics and we appreciate them. But what I also see is a world within his world. I love how these characters reveal so much about his life. “The Igs” are an expression of all that he sees, feels and hears. But what I love the most is seeing the sparkle in his eyes as he proudly shows me his creations. The joy that he’s found that has come from inside him. He made these! He is proud of himself. It makes him feel good.
We’ve bought 4 more blank comic books since that first one. They fill up rapidly. We have a whole collection and it’s amazing to look back on them and see how his stories have developed and grown from a small seed of an idea into a full blown world.
And yet, his school tell me he isn’t meeting age related targets. That he needs significant support in class to stay focussed. He isn’t engaging. He’s hard to reach. He can’t retain information and doesn’t listen. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to be doing most of the time.
When J comes home from school he tells me he is day wasn’t that good. That he isn’t clever. That the other children are more intelligent, quicker, faster, better. He says he’s no good at anything. He says the teachers are mean. They shout and make him feel sad inside. He loses playtime because he can’t complete his work in class.
It breaks my heart. This is his second primary school and if I am honest, I am beginning to question the merits of mainstream education (But that’s a WHOLE other blog post right there!).
J has sensory issues. Noise, light and the tone of somebody’s voice has a huge impact on his mood and his ability to concentrate. We have been waiting for an autism assessment for months, and have only recently discovered his is dyslexic. But I don’t want to see these as problems. These are the things that make him amazing for goodness sake!
I don’t want him to feel that he’s not good enough. I don’t want him to feel sad.
I believe that creativity is the key to understanding your originality. To create is to be unique. It is a celebration of the magic that YOU and ONLY YOU have.
When J reads me his comics and shows me what he’s created, I know he feels this magic. It makes him feel unique in a POSITIVE way. So this is what we’ll keep doing. We’ll keep buying him blank comic books. We’ll keep listening. We’ll keep celebrating. Because this makes him feel good about himself.
There are many reasons I feel so passionately about this. It is because in my own childhood, despite feeling unhappy a lot of the time, my friend was my writing and creativity. It was my lifeboat in a sea of sadness. It is because, after so many years of believing I wasn’t good enough as an adult, I’ve realised that creativity is a powerful way to just feel GOOD . It is because as a parent, my one true hope is that my children can learn to grown and feel good in themselves, no matter what life throws at them.
Who knows, maybe “The Igs” will teach the schools a thing or two… and not only help J to celebrate how far he’s come, but encourage other children to find their inner Ig !
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