In a couple of weeks school will be back in after our long, super hot summer holiday. Australia runs on a calendar year system so for our kids, it will be the start of a new school year. All the back to school sales are happening. Parents are busy buying new shoes, uniforms, bags and all the bits and pieces our kids need to kit them out for the year.
This time last year, we were in that grey zone where L had finished at his early intervention centre but hadn’t started at his special school. I didn’t know who his teacher would be or what it would be like for him to commence his formal schooling years in a new environment with new people and new everything!
The process of trying to work out where he should be going to school had been torturous. Never having done this before I thought I’d start with our local state school, meet with them and see what they had to say. If I had wanted to, I could have sent my boy there. They can’t refuse you if you are living within the ‘catchment area’. The question was – would this be the right learning environment for my child? Could I picture him in this space, in these classrooms, with this many kids in the class, learning? What kind of support would he need, or more importantly would he GET to make this work for him?
I visited a couple of schools, taking along information about him, questions for them but in the end it was my gut response which helped me to make the decision that a special school was where he needed to be. Of course, it wasn’t totally up to me, he had to meet certain criteria to be accepted. No problems there!
My visit to our local special school included a chat with the school counsellor, meeting the principal of the school who then took me on a tour of the school showing the different facilities as well as the different classes and the kind of work they were doing, from the junior school through to senior and transition from school. I got a run down on the school philosophy and was told about the ‘arts infused’ curriculum. I got a great sense of the community that they nurtured at the school. And yes, I could picture my boy there: having fun, learning, supported, understood, valued.
So off to special school he went, riding the short bus in his booster seat. Naturally, it took him a while to settle in to the new routine and new everything. There were a lot of behavioural issues in the first half of the year as this settling in process took place. A bit of regression and a bit of agression. But week by week, term by term he was making progress.
I got to see little snippets of his school experience throughout the year, but my main method of knowing what was happening was through the communication book where his teacher & I would communicate about what happening. (Apparently it’s never happened before, but we used up nearly two whole books with all our communicating last year. The blogger in me may be influencing the situation!) Parents were invited to come along to participate in various activities but it was pretty clear by the shock on his face every time that I would turn up, that he considered school to be ‘his’ domain. That I didn’t belong there. I guess he’s right in many ways.
So he has come through his first year of school and has the first building blocks of his formal education in place. Some literacy – learning to recognise and spell his own name, learning to recognise and write some letters; some numeracy, counting to 10 and back. Most importantly though, he is learning how to learn. Not easy for a little guy with a lot of challenges but possible, achievable. And that is what his school has taught me!
We all know that the greatest journeys start with the first step. It has felt at times like we’re just looking at our feet as they shuffle on the spot, dance around for a while, and then, miracle of miracles, slowly take a single step. Even the idea of the destination is so far off in the distance, shrouded in a haze of mystery, too uncertain to contemplate. But my boy has taken those first steps. This year he will take a few more and I can’t wait to find out where they will lead us.
One of the best things I did was to prepare an ‘All About Me’ document. It’s written in the first person, as if your child was talking. It gives the people who are teaching, working with or caring for your child, a road map to your child. It’s a document that gets updated as time passes. I give L’s All About Me to his school, to babysitters, respite carers, his therapists and paediatrician. Here’s a list of the headings you might want to include.
- Sensory Needs
- Food & Drink
- Obsessions & Behaviours
- Calming activities
- Specific Info on any safety or other considerations that may be helpful
Routines to practise together before school starts:
- Eating breakfast
- Dressing in school uniform
- Putting on school shoes
- Packing and unpacking a school bag
- Wearing their backpack/carrying their school bag
- Doing hair and cleaning teeth
- Eating snacks & lunch independently
- Being ready on time for the bus, drive or walk to school
- Driving or walking past the school and talking about it
- Going to bed the night before school/getting enough sleep
- Toileting routines
Here’s some ASD specific resources that might help you with preparing your child with starting school &/or the new school year.
Happy Child Starting School
Amaze Starting Primary School
So…one more week of holidays for us. Good luck with getting your little darlings back to or just to school.