This September my eldest son, J starts ‘big school’. By this I mean Reception class in Primary School. I know some parents who are counting down, saying their children are ‘totally ready’ or that they can’t wait for the peace and quiet. I’m sure they jest when they talk of their excitement (or maybe not?) but for me I am feeling every emotion. I am not ready for J to go. I’m not ready for him to go five days a week. He’s my baby boy. He’s far to vulnerable and sensitive to be away from me that long.
In reality he’s probably more ready than I give credit for. I think 75% of my fears are simply in my head. It’s the Mummy instinct to protect my child and when he is out of my eye sight, out of my reach then I’m not the one protecting him. I have to hand that responsibility over to someone else. But the other 25% of my fears are real. My son is autistic. He’s going into a mainstream school as he was deemed ‘too academic’ for special needs school, and although we were recommended he attends an autism unit, we don’t have anywhere nearby. Therefore we have had to go with mainstream school, and hope that the correct support system are in place (and work). I worry that he wont be able to get his point across, that he’ll get caught up in his emotions and his own head with no to help him out of it, and that he’ll be seen as ‘the naughty boy’ rather than someone struggling to fit into the ‘neurotypical world’.
But, the time is here. We have just under one week left until J’s start date so all I can do now is prepare J the best I can…
- Self Care and Independence
I have spent the summer holidays helping to build on J’s self care skills. By this I mean personal care – things that the teachers and support staff might not have time to help with as easily. Skills that will make his time run smoother.
- Putting shoes on and off (practising with his new school shoes and his plimsolls)
- Knowing what he needs to wear to go outside (sunhat, shoes, coat or jacket)
- Dressing and undressing (again, practising in actual school and PE uniform as well as everyday clothes).
- Opening packets of food that will be in his lunch box.
- Wiping his bottom and washing own hands effectively.
- Using his inhaler and eczema cream (staff will support but they prefer children to give their own medication).
- Recognising his own name (I have put Stickerscape name tags ,which we were gifted, in EVERYTHING so I needed to make sure he recognised both his first and last names)
Hint: Cut name tag or a sticker in half and put one in each shoe so that when shoes are next to each other it recreates to picture. This way children know which foot each shoe goes on.
2. Social Skills
J has difficulties with social skills as there are some elements of socialising which are challenging for the autistic traits. However, he needs to function in the social environment so I’ve been working on giving him strategies, phrases to use etc.
- Read stories about school and social sitations, and talk about what’s happening, what we should do in that situation etc.
- Play board games where he has to take turns and follow the rules. Also, making sure he loses occasionally so he learns how to deal with not always being the winner.
- Going to parks and talking through social situations as they happen. Having chance to practise phrases in action but with safety of me and family to support (eg: “Can I play too?”, “Stop it” and learning when to walk away, when to ask for help, learning that not everyone will want to play with him).
- Using visuals to show what to do in situations, when things will happen etc (visuals are great for J as he ‘zones out’ when he’s unsure or when he’s in meltdown so wont take on verbal commands).
Now the summer holidays are coming to an end I’m changing our routine to reflect the routine of when J starts school. So breakfast straight away and eating whilst sat at the table (in the holidays he’s had breakfast as and when he’s ready, not an option on busy school mornings), getting dressed rather than PJ days (except weekends), no xbox or electronic games until late afternoon (to reflect ‘after school time’), ‘reading time’ (where he has to read one of our phonics books – at a suitable level for him so stage 1, he’s likes phonic activities), 7-7.30pm bedtime etc.
Our exciting outings and trips are ending. That’s not to say we wont do anything exciting but I want our days to calm down now, especially from Monday when we have just two days till school starts. I want to plan something exciting for the weekend after he starts so he can have something to countdown too.
I have created a visual calendar to show J how many days we have left and what is happening on each day. We have marked off each day since Wednesday so he can prepare himself that despite his protests, school is coming up. I will update the calendar weekly until I’m confident he’s settled into the new weekly routine.
4. ‘Kiss Button’
Ever since J went to nursery we have had a rather cute little system of using a ‘kiss button’ so that we are always connected. We both have an ‘x’ on our hands (a small one) which when pressed will send a kiss to each other. J loves this and I do think it has helped him separate from me when he’s had difficulty on some nursery days.
To continue on from the ‘x’ I have brought a little present for J. Its two star keyrings. These will be our new ‘kiss buttons’ (bought from Islas Little Rainbow). J will wear one and I will wear one. Every time J feels sad or misses me then he can ‘send me a kiss’. It’s actually quite a surprise to me that J has taken on the idea as he can struggle with imaginative thoughts. Things need to be logical and in his words, ‘make sense’. I often wonder whether it’s more of an emotional comfort than actually believing it’s sending me physical kisses. I think he sort of understands the meaning behind it. He is a smart cookie at times.
Despite having my own fears and sadness I am remaining positive infront of J. I actually stopped talking about school altogether during the holidays as it would cause him to go into ‘shutdown’ or just blank the conversation. Whenever school did come up he’d tell me he wasn’t going, he’s staying with me, he’ll be lonely, he doesn’t want to go every day etc etc. To avoid building up the anxiety it was better to just let us enjoy the summer. Now it’s closer it’s time to start talking about it more so we’re reading books, watching TV shows and comparing to what it will be like with his school. I’m talking about all the things I know he’ll enjoy and how good at listening his teacher will be.
On the day I will hold it together until the second he is out of view…then I can cry (sob…hysterially). J doesnt need to know how gut wrenchingly sad I will feel. This will just make him sad and worried. I’m going to tell him I’ll just be home doing some tidying and hoovering, then come get him at home time. When I do pick him up I’m going to resist the urge to ask lots of questions. I know he’ll be overloaded enough so I’ll just focus on letting him unwind and talk when he’s ready.
I will also be treating him to a takeaway of his choice the night before school as a celebration, and he’ll have his favourite dinner on the first day of school. This is to add to the positivity of the day. At the weekend I plan to do something fun and exciting as well so he knows that life isn’t just going to be the 9-3 drudgery of get up, go to school, go home, repeat. He will know that we’ll still have fun together. He’s not ‘left me’ (probably for both our benefits as I feel insanely guilting sending him 5 days when I know he is not excited like some of his friends – only one friend is going to same primary as him).
As time goes on and he becomes more settled and positive then the treats will obviously start to decrease or be less obvious.
J hasn’t had to wear a strict uniform before. He’s had jumpers with logo for his special needs nursery but his mainstream ones were non-uniform. I will get J to try on all his uniform and I will take photos. I plan to print them and have them for J to see in the morning so he knows what he has to wear, and what order to put them on. I’m also going to get storage for his uniform so as he gets more settled and more independent, he can get himself ready in the mornings.
I have planned the parts of the uniform I can control:
- Shoes: I brought black shoes that were as soft as I could find in the style allowed. J has difficulty with heavy, thick shoes and doesn’t like wearing them. To him they are physically painful, not just uncomfortable. I’m asking him to wear for short period over each day to get used to the feel of them and how to get them on and off. I’m going to pack spares shoes that I know he will wear in his bag so if he really struggles then he can change into the other shoes when I pick him up (or sooner if school can make that allowance).
- Trousers: J is hypermobile in his hands. He also doesn’t think to ask for help a lot of the time. In his mind he expects people to just ‘know’ he needs help. So when he goes to the toilet he wont ask for someone to do his button up and will struggle to do it himself. I have brought him two types of trousers to try over the term. There’s ones with a sort of clip which just needs sort of pushing together) and ones which are elasticated so he wont need anything undone/done up.
- Plimsolls: I brought ones that have velcro straps. This is because the slip on ones are rather tight and again, he will struggle with these which means it opens him up to having a meltdown or getting in trouble as he ends up distracting himself instead. Velcro will be quicker and easier for him.
7. Sensory Bag
When J is anxious, stressed or over-active (over sensory stimulated) he likes to use sensory aids to help him regulate, and give his hands something to do. I will pack some aids from home for him to have in his bag. The teacher can get these out for J or he can ask for them. It’s simple things like a soft squishy toy (he likes the ‘resistance’ feeling), fidget spinner (gives him something to focus on), stretch toy (again for resistance). Having items that are familiar to him and can give his sensory feedback will help calm him and make him settle quicker when social or sensory input gets too much for him.
8. First Morning Plan
I have planned our first school morning with my husband. This way we both know what will happen so we are on the same page. J’s school gave us a bag of goodies before we broke up for the summer. In it is a treasure back which we have been filling with little bits and bobs we’ve done during the summer (postcards, tickets, photos etc). The teacher is going to use this to encourage children to share their summer holidays. This is good for J as visual prompts will help him (I’m also putting a little write up in their in case he forgets his words).
There was also a box of cereals for J to have for breakfast. They chose plain rice crispies for J which is a thoughtful choice as they already know that he will only eat dry and plain food. He will eat these in a bowl with no milk, alongside his normal oaty bar and fruit. Then he will get dressed (with help) and have chance to relax with toys or TV (nothing that will be hard for him to say goodbye too else he’ll never leave the house).
We’ll use the visuals to make sure we have everything we need, and then walk together to school. The plan is to say goodbye in the playground, and his teacher will take him in. However, if he is too upset or anxious then I will go in with him and leave him at his classroom door instead. I plan on using visuals to show him what time I’ll be coming to pick him up. I’m not going to make it a long goodbye as I know it will build his anxiety levels (as long as I feel someone is there to support him).
My plan is to call the school during the morning (if separation goes badly) just to put my mind at ease that he’s ok…which I’m sure he will be!
(J, aged 1)
I wont lie, I’m incredibly sad that our time together is over. I know its dramatic but after 4 years of therapy, appointments, groups and home learning, I’m feeling like I’m losing control. I’m having to put A LOT of trust into someone else. This is a scary thing. We’ll have weekends, evenings and holidays obviously but 5 days a week is a lot of time to be apart from a child who has needed me for comfort, security or to act as social and emotional translator (and verbal translator sometimes). However, I’m excited for the possibilities for J. For him to make life long friends, experience new opportunities, fall in love with subjects he’ll get to learn about and hopefully feel a part of something.
I wish everyone with children starting school the best of luck. For those with children with additional needs, I tip my hat to you. I know we will have a few extra battles in our time but hopefully new avenues of support too. Let me know if you have any advice or tips, or any questions. Comment below or come find us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Any items featured in my blogs have been paid for by myself, unless I disclose it as a gifted item/collaboration. All views are my own, honest opinions.