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When it comes to being a parent, we’re bombarded with books, journals, guides and experts, and not to mention family and friends, who counsel us on the best ways to raise our children. Too often, we listen to so-called “experts” too much and not enough to the natural parental voice inside us.
I came to this conclusion when my wife, son and I moved from Hong Kong to Singapore around 2011. My son is half-French, half-American and bowing to my wife’s wishes we put him in a French school for first grade. We did this because we wanted him to be able to speak French and English equally, even though the main language at home is English. It could have been French, but my wife says I speak French like the old Looney Tunes cartoon character Pepe le Pew.
Long story short, he lagged behind a year because his French was not good enough, and the teacher quitting halfway through the year didn’t help either.
As a result, when we arrived in Singapore we enrolled our son in an English-speaking international school where he started the second grade. We didn’t worry about anything at first because he seemed to settle in well. His English was fine and he started making new friends like any good expat kid. Then we went to the first teacher conference. The teacher expressed concerns about our son’s progress. We explained that he was a new kid in a new school, in a new city with a new helper and a new house – it’s a lot for a second-grader to adapt to so just give him a few months and he’ll be fine.
A little more time went by and one day I got a call at work from our son’s teacher. She hemmed and hawed on the phone about her worries about my son. I’m a journalist with 30 years of experience of reading between the lines so I got right to the point. “What you’re trying to tell me is you think my son is autistic, is that right?”, I asked her. She responded, a bit meekly, that “no, perhaps not autistic, but perhaps he has something like Asperger’s Syndrome but I think you might want to check him out.” I again replied as before and told her that my son just needed some time to adjust to a new environment.
Then the school wanted to have another conference with the school psychologist, the teacher, an administrator and my wife and I. I had done my research (on Asperger’s and on the school psychologist as well – thank God for Google) and was confident my son was fine. He was a typical second-grader trying to settle into new surroundings. We met with the school and after much back and forth, agreed to get him tested.
We consulted with our doctor in Hong Kong who had treated my son as a child for the usual childhood illnesses and vaccines, we met with a doctor in Singapore, we took him to a hearing specialist to rule out hearing problems, and we took him to a behavioural specialist who spent several hours testing him.
At the end of weeks of tests, phone calls, emails, and after spending several thousands of dollars, the consensus from all the “experts” was: “Your son is a typical second-grader trying to settle into a new city, a new school, get used to a new helper and a new house and make new friends. He’s fine.”
After going through all of that needless worry and expense, it’s very hard for me now not to say a big fat “I told you so” to everyone involved, but I suppose that wouldn’t do anyone any good. I do however, take every chance I can to remind them of that experience whenever they raise questions about my son (lately it’s been about his less than stellar maths grades).
So, take it from this “parental expert”, the next time someone raises questions about your kid, take a minute to listen to that mum or dad voice inside of you to see if those questions are valid. If the questions are, fine, do what the “experts” say. But if you have questions about what those people are telling you, ask those questions, voice your opinion and stand up for your kids. After all, you are the real expert.
Matthew Driskill is an award-winning journalist, multimedia entrepreneur and part-time university lecturer who has lived and worked throughout Asia, Europe and the US. He is the CEO of Wildcat Productions, a Singapore-based content production company helping clients spread the word globally with original content and programming. Learn more at www.matt-driskill.com.