I’ve been bowled over this week. Bowled over by the kindness, understanding and support of my little 4yo boy’s state infant school SEN (Special Educational Needs) service. It’s glorious to be able to post about a happy event filled with hope and possibility.
I posted a few months ago about my quandary over taking our children (now 4 and 8) for diagnosis of ?high-functioning autism (also known as ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder). However, my psychiatrist planted a seed nearly 2 years ago now, when he asked me about the children and their characters, when he said that it is highly probable that at least one of my children will have ASD then stated that it was our youngest child that sounded almost certainly to be following in my footsteps. Am still on the fence for now, seeing as we have been managing traits as they present within our safe little family unit.
The journey to get our little boy starting at his infant school this September was very different to the one of his older sister’s. She had always settled well at nursery. She happily trotted off to her primary school with other children of the same or similar age in our neighbourhood when the time came and thoroughly loved it. Smooth!
My previous article on separation anxiety when he started school and the triggers on my CPTSD aside, the preparation I did with the school whilst he was still at kindergarten elsewhere was already a step more than I took with our daughter. I needed to talk to them about his ways, his eating difficulties (phobias, layout requirements, shapes), his separation anxiety (and mine), the stress that overwhelms him when he is in an hectic environment (noise and mess), his need to feel safe and secure connections with the teachers.
The Family Liaison Officer and the Deputy Head took me seriously. In fact they took me so seriously, the meeting was incredibly emotional. This was a massive trigger for my own childhood experiences of not being understood as a young girl with autism starting school. What was also dawning on me was how much they got it, they got that not only could our little boy have inherited my ASD, but that I am a mother who is high-functioning autistic and they communicated with me in a way that gave me a huge sense of caring and seriousness. A plan was drawn up that made sense for us as mother and child. The school were going to blend in with us.
Fast forward a few months and the results of initial meetings to try to work together to ease the separation anxiety trauma for myself and our son in the first few weeks of the Autumn term starting… a tray was put in the classroom for him to go to filled with more challenging worksheets and quizzical items to explore (which he has been going to to escape at times) and the screaming/crying at drop offs has eased.
Drop off behaviour in the mornings has not eased up and we’re now in week 4. It is very very physical and forceful. I get the ‘I’m not going to school’ all morning from the moment he wakes up. I get the ‘stay with you’ all the time we are waiting in the playground. When it is time to go into the classroom I have to wait until all the children have gone in as it is a wrestling match to get him over the threshold and then to keep him there. Between myself and one of the teachers we manage to get him restrained and the outside door shut.
He is a strong boy. His hands are strong and he is grabbing anything about my person and holding on for dear life – skin, clothes, bag strap, hands, legs. His face is screwed up and determined. He doesn’t make a single sound.
It reminds me of a time when he had to have a minor operation when he was a 1 year old and his struggle in my arms when he was being put to sleep and the silent sheer panic and resistance to what he probably perceived was to be his death. Shudder. What an awful memory for a mother to carry (I wonder about his memory of it).
So what could I possibly have been bowled over by this week? I had a meeting with one the SEN staff at the school yesterday morning. She was very kind and obviously already clued up on our situation from the FLO and our son’s teachers. She presented me with a timetable ‘game’ I could take home to use to help our son to visualise his day, plan his day, keeping any fear or anxiety or lack of control at bay. A smile velcro strip on a laminated card about 15cm long and an envelope filled with laminated icons with descriptors, e.g. school, home, snack, swimming, scooter, quiet time. She explained how to use it and gave me some background to how she has used it previously for another little boy who was diagnosed as autistic.
I got it yesterday morning. Our little boy launched into using it with utter glee and sense of accomplishment and control as soon as he got home from school. The first thing he wanted to do this morning once he got down to the kitchen was to plan out his morning until school. Amazing. He is using it exactly as the SEN had predicted. She is making me more icons to fit our family life and has already passed me a 7 day week base for him to design too. It’s a such a ray of light.
We also talked about his punching and verbal exchanges when he is enraged. This is something I suffered with as a young child, but I wasn’t met with any sense of understanding or tolerance. However, with our little one, we tolerate and try to help him to see the error of his over-reactions, but to no effect. Of course, she said, he cannot hear you or reason when he is overwhelmed with anger and frustration. Ah, yes, of course, just like me when I was his age and on rare occasions as an adult. Emotional pang. My inner child is being understood in parallel to his little nature being cared for and nurtured in a safe and controlled way. She also lent me this book. We read it at bedtime last night. Some other advice I’m following is to buy some indestructible child friendly egg timers (1 min, 5 mins, 10 mins, 30 mins) so that he can have visible reminders of when to stop playtime, or when mummy is going to be free to play games, or when we need to be leaving the house. Ordered these.
So, if you are like me or not like me, but are drowning in the all consuming universe of your child starting school and any of my experiences ring any bells, then let me tell you… the Special Educational Needs service and the Family Liaison Officer at your school is as much there for you as the parent or carer as they are for their pupil. Sometimes you just need to sit down and chat about it all over a coffee in their office. They’ve most likely been through this situation with other children and families before many times and have a whole host of experience and advice, which you can choose to take on board or not.
What have you got to lose? Don’t suffer in silence! It takes a village and all that.
…whilst listening to Tallies ‘Tallies’