Damien came to our school last year.
He joined us in SS1, although he was already 18years, certainly too old for his class. He was brought in from the UK.
At first, I thought he was a delinquent, and that was why his parents shipped him to Nigeria, as we often have children like that; they’d become brats or difficult to handle abroad and their parents would send them back to Nigeria to learn sense.
I was one of Damien’s subject teachers and you don’t want to get into trouble with the ‘away’ parents who can go report you to the proprietor over the slightest misunderstanding; we often have more problems with the parents than the children and I don’t get it.
They bring their children to your school for sound academics and discipline but if you discipline their kids, they’ll complain, blowing all the grammar in the world and threatening the teachers and the school with law suits.
If their children don’t do well, they would come ask you why their children did not pass, after all, they were coming from abroad.
So when I saw this tall, gangling kid in my class, I asked him a few questions; what is your name, tell us a bit about yourself?
Damien responds to commands but afterwards; you find that he just walks around like someone in a daze, mumbling and smiling at nothing…you would have to tell him to sit down before he does.
There was something not right with this kid, I knew it but I couldn’t pin it. I wasn’t sure why he was behaving the way he was; there was no aggression, almost no emotion, beyond the constant smile on his face.
In order not to embarrass him in front of his mates, I made up my mind to inquire from our admin office about him. I found out, Damien was no delinquent, he didn’t have any stubborn streak, he was just a special child.
At 18, he was the oldest in his class and one of the oldest in school but let me tell you, ma, this boy’s brain is like a mirror.
He can reproduce almost verbatim whatever you teach him in class; whatever he reads in a book, be it Bible, text book, anything, he would reel out to you, just give him a chance to go through the material first, then he will reproduce.
His mates thought he was a genius, you know in our part of the world, this kind of ‘photographic memory’ is viewed as excellent and even though I had no special training for kids with special needs, I recognized immediately that my Damien needed help.
We had no capacity or training for special children, he had just been dumped on us.
What do I mean? According to another colleague of mine who was present the first day Damien’s parents came to the school; Damien was born and lived in the UK, his mother passed on a few years back and his father married his secretary; (Don’t ask me how my colleague found this out.) His father and step mum are resident abroad; though they come into Nigeria every six months and leave after a few weeks.
Now, Damien is on the autistic spectrum as you must have guessed from the descriptions I have given earlier and his step mother, whom my colleague attended to, did all of the talking, often cutting off her husband when he wanted to interject. he man would then keep quiet and hold his peace.
Madam step mother, said Damien was a spoilt brat and that she wanted him in Nigeria where he would be properly disciplined. She omitted to say he was a special boy.
When my colleague then invited Damien to be tested, we usually perform oral and written tests for new in takes, my colleague said though she noticed he was kind of slow, she just thought the boy was having a bad day…I told you our people are not trained to handle special children.
So, that’s how Damien was thrust upon us and from the very beginning, all the subject teachers, me included, reported to the Principal that we didn’t think Damien belonged to the school…even his housemaster, at one of our monthly meetings repeated a sad story he had told the principal before.
He said, apparently the other students had discovered Damien was special and would respond to commands, they had been asking him to drop his pants and bare his penis in the hostel in front of junior students…kids can be mean, I tell you.
Damien would be summoned even by his juniors and be asked to remove his pants and walk the hostel naked, and he would do exactly so!
The first time, the housemaster thought he must have got carried away or something, he shouted at him to go get dressed but one night, during lights out, Damien was found naked roaming the corridors of the hostel at the command of one of his fellow students.
After that incident, the housemaster reported to the principal and the following day, they were frantically trying to reach Damien’s step mum from the contacts she left, the school wanted her to come pick the boy and take him where he would be properly catered for. She couldn’t be reached.
There was also another story that got me really upset; Damien was found naked with one of the senior boys fondling his genitals! I swear, I kid you not! The things these children do! The boy was immediately expelled at that time, too, we still hadn’t been able to reach Damien’s step mum or dad…
After several inquiries, we located an individual who knew the step mother, he was the one who told us the step mother was just trying to get rid of Damien, that she had manipulated the father into bringing Damien to Nigeria. Tell me, where is best to care for this young man, isn’t it abroad, where they understand these things better?
Anyway, she pleaded with the Principal to keep him till the end of the term, saying no school would take him since more than half the term was already gone.
At the beginning of the new term, Damien didn’t show up. What became of him? I’ve no idea.
( series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)