My son starting primary school was a time of huge stress and worry for me. I’m sure, to some extent,every parent feels some level of apprehension about this huge milestone. My mind, however, was on the future and about my son growing up and becoming more aware of his physical difference, once he was at school. Before the start of term, we met with the school pastoral team. We gave them a background history on the medical stuff and we checked out the boys’ toilets. There were two cubicles.
Term started. I held my breath.
And nothing happened.
He made friends, settled in to school and all was fine. Then the global pandemic hit halfway through spring term and suddenly there were bigger things to worry about. By the time September rolled around, and Year 1 (Year 1!) was starting, toilets were the
last thing on our mind. Very soon, our son came home and said “there’s a big tray in the toilet that you wee in!” Having previously always sat down for a wee, he now wanted to be like the other boys and use the urinal. A few weeks further down the line and he started to reveal that other boys were making fun of him when he was using the toilets. They were calling names, pointing, laughing etc. Everything I had feared and dreaded for my little boy.
We asked for a meeting with his teacher, the pastoral team and the head. We talked about what had been happening, and talked (again) about my son’s history. It just so happened, I had received a letter from one of my son’s consultants that morning and so a lot of the medical jargon was fresh in my mind. Although my son has a healthcare plan, covering various issues, in terms of his DSD I had left this intentionally vague. This was because I wanted to be in control of who I spoke with and gave details to. [ I think having a healthcare plan gave us a firm starting point for discussions and also for the meeting to
go ahead. I believe that, without referring to it in the initial request for a meeting, we may have been taken down a different pathway that would ordinarily be used for dealing with minor classroom issues]. My personal stance has been to avoid oversharing; you can always tell people more but you cannot take back information you have already given. I am very aware of the fact that my son will grow up in this community and will one day be a teenager here. I want to be satisfied that I have not told his story for him, without his say so. That is my personal view anyway, and in a much more general sense, it is for
this same reason that I am limited with what information I share online and with my friends. Once he is older, he is free to discuss whatever he wants with whoever he chooses.
I felt that the staff listened, asked relevant (but not intrusive) questions and seemed to genuinely care about helping my son to have a more positive experience at school. They planned to discuss and celebrate ‘differences.’ I was able to give them some book titles that we have used at home to aid these discussions and they were willing to purchase the books and use them in class. The plan was to talk to the class as a whole, and not to single out any individuals (including my son.) They also made sure that a staff member was outside the toilets when they were in use, to discourage any unwanted behaviour.
Another offer from the school was to begin relationship building with the pastoral team, with the aim to offer support throughout his schooling. This would mean that my son would, hopefully, have a consistent safe space within school to offload, if he chose to.
My son now chooses to use the toilet cubicles, which gives both a sense of relief and pang of sadness, on my part. Gradually, the bullying problems seem to have eased off. It may not be the last time we have to have a similar meeting or discussion, but I hope that the seeds have been sown, with staff and pupils, which mean that next time will be easier.