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.


20 Questions

First week of school for L. Normally with any big change like this he gets pretty anxious and he shows this in all kinds of ways that nobody really enjoys. This week (and I’d hate to jinx it) has been remarkably smooth.

A little bit unsure on day 1. But thanks to the year at AEIOU he is very familiar with the drop off ritual. So we followed that routine, it just happened to be in a different location. He was definitely happy to see me when I came to pick him up, but he’d had a great day. He sat well at the group table, followed directions, took his turn, eaten reasonably well and had started to get to know his 5 other classmates.

Day 5 (today) his teacher told me that they had done an activity around ‘what I did on my holiday’. Really? And what did he have to tell you about that? He had used both symbols and words to tell her that we had gone to the beach (oh yes we did!) that we had been on a drive (a truly hellish 4 hours each way) and that he’d had Christmas.

I would have loved to see what my face looked like at this point. I was floored! Amazed! Impressed! Overwhelmed! I LOVE SCHOOL and more than that I LOVE TEACHERS.

With his 5th birthday, I have started a tradition of asking him the same 20 questions each year. Something I hope that he can be more involved with as we go along. It’s a nice little snapshot of where he is right now. As the years go past it will also show how he’s changed, grown and matured. So here is 2012’s edition.

Who Am I?

I’ve been wondering about how much I have changed since taking on the role of ‘foster carer’ and ‘mum’. Sure the practical realities have changed. I’m no longer in paid employment and my selfish lifestyle of doing whatever I want whenever I wanted to (not quite but you get the picture) is but a distant memory. But am I still the stand alone me and who is that person now?

These days I am one of those people who are seen wrangling shopping and babies, who can’t seem to control that screaming, flapping, ribbon flicking kid who needs a good stern talking to. Yep, that was me today. I was trying to find a new pair of glasses for L whose message to me was loud and clear – don’t make me go into another one of those shops with all the glasses in them – it’s freaking me out!!!

So not only am I a foster mum, a single mum, I am also an autism mum – the trifecta! Definitely not complaining because I love what I do and love all my kids, but occasionally I have to take a deep breath because my life is SO different from what it was for such a long time. I never even went into shopping malls.

My question to myself is this – is being a parent now my defining attribute?

In lots of ways, I’d have to say yes. Putting the kids needs above my own means that there is a filter over everything I do. But I am still the person I was B.C. (before children) and that person is struggling for air time.

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Monday will be L’s first day at school. So things are about to change. It will be a big transition for him, so I’m expecting some reactive behaviour. But once that settles down I’m really looking forward to the space that having a school aged child will bring. Watch that space.