Special, Very Special

I hope so...

I hope so…

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!

the longest journey...

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.

All About Me!!

  • Communication
  • Sensory Needs
  • Food & Drink
  • Toileting
  • Play
  • Obsessions & Behaviours
  • Calming activities
  • Specific Info on any safety or other considerations that may be helpful

morning routine

Routines to practise together before school starts:

  • ƒ Eating breakfast
  • ƒ Dressing in school uniform
  • ƒ Putting on school shoes
  • ƒ Packing and unpacking a school bag
  •  Wearing their backpack/carrying their school bag
  • ƒ Doing hair and cleaning teeth
  •  Eating snacks & lunch independently
  •  Being ready on time for the bus, drive or walk to school
  • ƒ Driving or walking past the school and talking about it
  •  Going to bed the night before school/getting enough sleep
  •  Toileting routines

ƒHere’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.

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One More Day

I’m notoriously bad at organising things to do for the holidays. It’s not that I don’t think about it. It’s just that they come around so quickly and I haven’t really worked out what we will do. That has to change!

We are at the end of our two week holiday. One more day to go. It didn’t start out too auspiciously with some severe meltdowns in public places (me) and at home (my boy). But as you do, you find a rhythm to the day and you do you best to relax into it. Before you know it you are here, at the end of the holidays.

So here is our holiday in pictures and a few words.

The chickens definitely came before the eggs!

 

fun at the local pool – we’ve been getting there before nine, home before 11 = happy, sleepy, relaxed children

Bubs has started climbing everything. Two seconds later he was dancing on the table!

he’s a ham!

We spent the long weekend up at the property (where we have stayed before) with Chris & Karin. It’s ‘boys own fun’ up there. Wonderful!

Plus Chris had the best calendar ever!

L discovered that he could play music on the ipad – big progress!

We had friends over and went over to friends. M & O sure know how to feel the beat!

We couldn’t believe our luck when the neighbours started to have their deck built. We are down there with ‘the guys’ every morning talking about what they’re doing, which tools they’re using and what ‘that noise’ is. Best & cheapest fun!!

Bubs going to sleep. Not quite sure how my hair became his security blanket, but it is, so there you go. Note also my glasses are broken. I got down to having no arms on them by the end of the holiday and L is up to pair #4 for the year!

One more day people!!! ONE MORE DAY!

School Daze

Day 16: Autism Awareness Blogathon

It was the first day of Term 2 today, so we are back into the school routine. I was pretty happy with L’s transition and I think he was too. Yesterday I started to remind him that the bus would be coming in the morning. That he would be seeing his teacher Lisa and aide Sally again and that he would see his 5 classmates again too.

Today when I got his uniform out and showed him what he would be wearing, he seemed to be fairly happy about the idea of going back to school. He quite enjoys the bus and has never had a problem with getting on or off it thank goodness. The bus comes right to our door and the only time he gets anxious is when the bus has arrived and we are all trying to get down the stairs. I’m usually holding the baby (who weighs a TON) and L’s school bag and L wants me to hold his hand as well. In the mix is N (2yo) who would not miss out on some bus action for anything, so he’s trying to get down the stairs as well. Luckily there’s only 8 steps!

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So off he went happy as a lark and he had a great day (or so it says in his communication book).

L attends our local special school. This time last year I was trying to work out what on earth I should be doing about finding a school for him. Our system is based on catchment areas. So if you live within the boundaries you are entitled to go to your local state school. Autism in itself is not classified as an intellectual impairment, so the state school is usually your first port of call.

So off I went to our local school to see what they could offer my boy. They were quite wonderful, very accepting and willing to do whatever might be required to support him BUT he would still be in a group of about 25 kids, one teacher and a part time teacher’s aide. That’s it.

So after getting some more advice, I made an appointment to go to a state school that is still within our boundaries but a bit further away and one which has a special education unit attached to it. This sounded like a pretty good option. It was a small school. I have friends whose children attend there and they’ve been more than happy with the school. There were definitely a couple of kids on the spectrum enrolled there. Maybe this would work out?

I was asked to bring my boy along to the interview. So we turned up en masse – I had all three kids with me. That’s just the way it is sometimes as a single parent. We all went into the Principals office and she was also very welcoming along with the Head of the Special Ed Unit. It didn’t take too long being in a small office for L to start carrying on. That set the other kids off and before long it was all going pear shaped.  I was trying to comfort the baby, settle the toddler and keep L from going completely OFF and I was failing on all three accounts. At one point L ran around behind the Principal’s desk and started to climb up on it. He was telling me loud and clear…get us out of here NOW!

Through all this, I could see the Principal’s eyes taking it all in and the inner dialogue was loud and clear from her too. Please don’t send him here! They made it very clear that he would need to be completely toilet trained and must be able to manage getting and eating his lunch and snacks without any assistance.

We did get out of the office and at that point feeling completely overwhelmed, the tears started forming in the corners of my eyes. ‘Keep it together…KEEP IT TOGETHER!!!’ They could see that I was upset and the tone became a little softer. ‘We just want to make sure that this is the right environment for him’.

We had a look at the classrooms where 25 kids were crammed into a visually overwhelming space. They were all busy doing different activities in small noisy groups around the room. L went straight for the Dora box of tissues. There was nothing else of interest in this room for him.

I had gathered myself by this point, thanked them for their time, packed up my three marauders and got the hell out of Dodge. I realised that I had invested a lot of hope in this school being a good solution for my little guy. I was disappointed to say the least. The next day when I dropped L at his early intervention centre, his teacher asked me how the interview had gone and I just fell apart at that point.

A couple of the other parents who were there at that moment came to my rescue, hustled me off to the Parent’s Room (yes…there is a Parent’s Room), made me cups of tea and gave me tissues while I told them of my horror story. Candice & Stuart – thank you, for being so lovely, kind and understanding that day.

OK…regroup, next option?? The phone rang. It was Kerry from Narbethong (her back story is here).  She had known L almost as long as I had and had heard that I was having trouble trying to find the right school for him. She offered her help and the help of the Narby Guidance Officer. They would run interference for me and set up an interview at Nursery Road – our local special school.

Kerry came with me to that interview. I had my dear old mother watch the babies (wasn’t going to make that mistake again!). A very warm welcome, a chat, some games with L and a tour of the school. It’s not the most modern nor does it have the latest educational mod cons, but every child was being catered to according to their needs. They had a heated pool, their curriculum is ‘arts infused’, they have the wonderful bike program and I could see my child being happy here. I could see him learning here.

I don’t know why I left this option to the very last, but I guess you’ve got to work though every options to know which is the right one. I’ve been more than happy with the school so far. Bring on Term 2 and the winter horse riding program.

Tomorrow I have L’s IEP meeting. From all accounts it’s not as difficult and challenging as those I’ve read about from my friends in the US & Canada. I’ve been through quite a few of these already, so feel up to the challenge. I’m taking the advice of one of my bloggy friends though and taking along a photo of my boy, to remind everyone in the room, just who we are talking about.