We all face challenges through life and especially so when we are young and new to the world. School days for some are more difficult than for others for any number of reasons - sometimes because of things they cannot change.
I have been mentoring a young lad aged 13 for around eighteen months. Mentoring involves regular meetings where the person is encouraged to talk about their lives and to share their worries and where (hopefully) the mentor can encourage and advise.
The reason he was put on the mentoring program was that he was being bullied at school. Shortly after we started meeting he was diagnosed as being mildly autistic and depressed.
At our first meetings - in the school - he was liable to stop talking and feign going to sleep (I don't think it was necessarily a result of my boring conversation). This would often happen if I asked him about how he felt about things or what he thought of particular incidents that had happened to him.
Sometimes he would stand up and put a chair on his head or other similar eccentric behaviour - apparently oblivious to what other people might think of him.
He is not a natural conversationalist (to say the least) - and appeared to see no value in trivial conversation and took little interest in the thoughts of other people. His main topic of conversation was usually about the Minecraft game - the only thing he would speak at length about. It seems Minecraft is very popular with children with autism.
I once asked him to fill in a form about his feelings (all part of the process) - his chin went straight onto his chest and he didn't speak again for 10 minutes - and then he would only talk about Minecraft!
Long silences were a common feature of our early meetings it has to be said. One phrase he often used was "I don't know" when asked about his feelings.
I would often walk away thinking that we were getting nowhere - but when I asked him if he wanted to keep meeting up - he always said yes. From then on - it was clear that I mustn't cut him off even if the meetings seemed pointless at times. Making progress stopped being the point - just meeting and having that continuity was an end in itself.
He has no friends. He thought he had at least one friend at school - until a couple of months ago. This one supposed friend turned on him along with several others and pushed him around and kicked him.
This happened just before one of our scheduled meetings and he cried through most of it. It was not so much the incident of bullying itself - this had happened before - it seemed he cried because of the betrayal by someone he thought of as a friend.
He talked about many incidents of bullying and abuse by his class mates. He didn't seem to like any of the classes he went to and had few ambitions about doing well at school. His present was unpleasant and his future looked bleak at that point.
Then his mother pulled him out of that school because of the bullying and he is now going to another school - and so far seems happier there. Her courage in pulling him out of the first school has presented him with a chance to start to enjoy school life. He now talks about being good at arithmetic and even enjoying a couple of the other subjects.
He seems happier and more talkative. He can even talk about himself and some of the challenges he faces - something he would never do before. The future remains uncertain for him but he now seems happier - more talkative and more confident. His main ambition though is to have a friend!
Later on I asked him why he used to say "I don't know" so often when I would ask him about his feelings - he said that he just didn't have the words to describe how he felt.
This inability to describe the very problem that blights a young person's life makes things doubly difficult for someone like him. It also makes it harder for his family and others around him to know how to help. In his case - thinks are getting better - for him and his family.