Thursday, February 01, 2007

Small narcoleptic

I heard a sad story recently. Some friends of ours - part of my husband's old college gang - have a five-year-old daughter, who went to school last September. At a party, I asked her mother how it was going, and got a long and worried response.

I don't know this child well at all, but I gather she's always been extremely shy. Indeed, her parents decided, for this reason, to wait until she turned five to send her to school. She has a more outgoing younger brother, and in situations like playgroup she's been able to rely on him, to some extent, to get by socially.

Now she's at a standard-model school. Academically, she's fine. But a few months into the term, the teacher came to her parents, worried. Every time the class is asked to do less structured group activities, such as art or PE, she falls asleep. Her parents had noticed that she seemed more than usually tired, all right, and prone to sleeping during the day. But they'd put it down to the big change, and they hadn't realised that it had become so frequent at school.

And what are they to do? It's genuine sleep, not put on. Her mother, telling me about it, used language like "it took us a while to figure out what she was up to" - apparently thinking of it as a trick, more or less. She didn't have a solution.

I said vague things about being sure that it would sort itself out eventually, and how actually, when you think about it, it's a perfectly natural reaction to an overwhelming situation, and how she obviously isn't comfortable with full-on peer-group interaction, and really what you'd need would be a very small class, where she might be better able to get used to it at her own pace, but sure, where would you find something like that, and so forth.

It seems obvious to me that a mainstream, age-segregated, thirty-strong class is the wrong place for this child - and equally obvious that it would take a lot more than strategic sleepiness to make her parents consider any alternative. All I can think is that she's come up with a strikingly intelligent short-term response to her problem. Falling asleep is such a total, personal withdrawal - and such an (essentially) unobjectionable thing for a small child to do. But of course it will do her no good at all in the long term, because of the situation in which she has been placed. She will just have to learn to cope, somehow. I'm sure she will. But I wish she didn't have to.

Popular Posts