What Charlie Does Next: The importance of boundaries

“CHARLIE, COME HERE YOU!’ a teaching assistant coos across the hallway. She bounds over mustering the insincere energy adults use when they are trying to feign interest in something, ruffling his hair and asking about his weekend. “Did you watch the football? 2-0!” This is not the playground and this is not helping.

It’s Thursday, and a week on from our last big incident, Charlie has lashed out again. This time I have escaped but Imran was not so fortunate. After coming in from playtime Charlie swung a punch hard in his belly. We are now on our way the head’s office for some thinking time, but a shower of attention has interrupted.

This is not unusual for Charlie. As his personal helper I find myself constantly stopping in the corridors or playground to wait as another adult greets him in this manner. Sometimes, as Libby, Imran or whichever child is standing nearby, desperately tries to join the conversation; they are always ignored. I find this horribly unfair; I do not like to see Charlie treated as a special case. This may sound ungenerous but I truly believe that the best thing for Charlie is to be treated just like everyone else. After all, if he does not learn what is acceptable behaviour now, when will he?

You see it is not Charlie’s disability that provokes his bad behaviour. It’s adults. In the midst of a tantrum he often hurls insults at me such as: ‘You’re little. You’re small. I’m BIGGER than you!’ Charlie cannot understand why I would punish him, when my colleague will drop to her knees to ask him about the football just minutes later and this has given him license to do as he pleases; he sees himself as an adult.

Later that afternoon Charlie returns to the classroom. This time he refuses to sit on the carpet and sits himself down at the back of the room. The children carry on with their afternoon lessons but just half an hour later it begins again, Charlie has been pushing children over as they pass him but not one of them has told an adult. The class are  keenly aware of Charlie’s disability, they look at him with the same pity modelled by the adults in the school and make allowances for his behaviour. They have become used to the situation and this too has added to Charlie’s sense of power. Their consideration for his disability is admirable but I do worry that this patience will not last, a punch from a thirteen year old Charlie might not be as easy to forget. It is important that Charlie realises that there are social consequences to his behaviour. It is important that Charlie realises he risks losing his friends.

‘Imran’s a baby’ Charlie whispers as we wait for mum to come and collect him. He is unaware of the irony. Charlie is the baby in this class and he needs adults in the school to allow him to grow up. While it is tempting to overpraise children in challenging circumstances, it is important to remember that what Charlie needs to succeed is boundaries. It is our job to give him the skills to have the most independent life possible. If the violence continues he will not be able to continue in a mainstream school. By showing consistency in the way in which we praise and discipline Charlie we give him far more of a fighting chance.


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