I have been working with Wilson* for approximately 18 months. Wilson is aged nine years.
The day I met him, I actually heard him before I saw him. I became aware of a commotion in the office, which was unusual. Curiosity got the better of me and I wandered down to the waiting room to see what all the fuss was about.
Wilson had climbed the wall of our waiting room and was sitting up on the partition part, trying to reach across to the light shade so he could make it swing.
Our rather stern but fair receptionist was trying to create some order and demanding he get down. His nana (the main care giver) and two younger siblings sat watching, knowing that this was Wilson’s way of acting out in situations that made him uncomfortable. While Nan was embarrassed, she was also very concerned that her grandson was so traumatised by his experiences that this behaviour had become his norm. Clearly this child required our support but I was not sure how exactly I was going to be able to help. Wilson sat up on the wall, swearing and yelling that he was not coming (to counselling) and that everyone can “F- off, shut-up, shut-up, p- off, p- off, no, no, no, no, no, I’m not listening, shut-up, shut-up….” It went on and on and on.
One of his siblings got up to get a glass of water from the filter in the room. This got Wilson down from the wall, as he wanted one too and I suggested we go into a room where it is more private. I decided to ignore Wilson’s behaviour and defiance, and speak to the people who were listening. Luckily Wilson followed us into the room, but continued to completely sabotage the session. He lay on the couch with his sweatshirt pulled tightly over his head, continuing with his rants, “no, no, no, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, F- you, nobody cares, I’m not listening ….” When he wasn’t ranting he would leap to his feet and body slam his younger brother into the beanbags. As his siblings sat quietly playing with the toys he would smash and break anything they were building or creating and the rants continued.
Ultimately we had to close the session, but I managed to get all of the forms and documents signed by Nan who desperately wanted help and support to begin immediately. Expectedly, Wilson refused to attend counselling, and I tried my best to explain that I would not force him to attend. “Good,” he said, “because I’m not F-ing coming.”
I concentrated on the younger children who wanted to engage, knowing they would be returning home to talk about their positive and enjoyable experience with us, that Wilson would be hearing. His two siblings were very excited to return and use art as a medium to externalise their story. Their story was one of heart-breaking sadness….
Mum had passed away one year prior. The cause of death was through HIV and refusing to take her medication. Nan states her death was very traumatising for the children and described it as “morbid and grotesque” as mum became so extremely unwell, which the children witnessed. Dad did not cope and used alcohol as a means to deal with the grief. This evolved into abuse and Wilson was physically assaulted during dad’s frequent outbursts.
When CYF were notified of this family, they state Wilson was literally black and blue and the worst case of physical abuse they had ever seen. Wilson was the main protector of his younger siblings and would hide them in the wardrobe when dad became violent, taking the brunt of the abuse. None of the children had been able to deal with the grief of losing their mother; they were all operating in survival mode, just to get through their days.
Nan brought the children to the first session. Wilson sat in the car refusing to have anything to do with us. At the second session, he stood at the front door, but did not enter. The third he sat in the waiting room with Nan and caused a bit of ruckus, but nothing like the first visit. By the fourth session Wilson agreed to look around the building. Session five, Wilson agreed to spend some time with me and this is when he attempted to paint.
I sat and watched as Wilson assaulted the canvas. He threw paint at it. He kicked it and punched it. He yelled at it, “I hate you. Dumb stupid house, dumb stupid house. I hate you.” Paint went flying everywhere. Both he and I emerged from the art room looking as though we had showered in the stuff, but he had done some very important work and it was a humbling experience for me to be a part of. The next session, Wilson and I painted his self-portrait!
The following week Wilson had regressed again. Nan couldn’t get him out of the car.
I went to him and suggested we walk through the bush that backs onto our offices. We are lucky to have a wonderful public resource at our backdoor, of lovely nature walks and spaces. He agreed. That boy walked and walked and walked. We walked for 2 hours, as far as the waterfall and then to another one beyond. I suggested we could do this for his sessions instead of staying in the office.
Wilson agreed and for 18 months, we walked through the bush until eventually he stopped walking and he would sit and be still.
My manager had the creative vision and understanding to know that sitting in an office with children like Wilson will not always be appropriate and it was more important to work with the client’s own strengths and interests. For Wilson this was an attachment to nature and his environment. It was very important to allow that process to happen.
Today Wilson is able to spend 3 full days per week at school. This is huge progress for a child who would have the school in lockdown and be escorted home by police for stabbing children with his pencil and assaulting the teachers, on a weekly basis. Wilson will require support and guidance for some time yet but he is learning to trust and develop relationships with others again. The work is very slow and tentative. We have had to be extremely creative in our work with Wilson, as he does not respond to ordinary, common practices.
I am grateful to work in an environment that is open to this and we get to celebrate the small successful steps with my colleagues (especially our receptionist!), the family, but most importantly Wilson.
Wilson is an amazing boy. He is witty, he is funny, he is clever and he is a survivor of magnitude proportions.
Meg – Family Worker
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the child.