Thursday 1 September 2016

Back to School with autism

'The thing is Mummy, I'm more of a day-dreamer than a night-dreamer'.

So said my youngest daughter, just five minutes ago. She's now downstairs watching a little video with her Daddy while I finish my 'work', before I'll go into her room and hold her hand for half an hour trying to soothe her off to sleep. She did ask to sit on the sofa between us both; in an airy voice I had to suggest that wasn't possible, even though I wanted it more than anything in the world.

There are two issues going on here; one is sleep generally, which I'll write about another time, but the first is of course Back To School. Tomorrow.

As I sat next to her on the sofa this morning, I honestly struggled to stop a tear rolling down my cheek as I thought about tomorrow. No less than a week ago though, after a pretty tricky time moving house, I was longing for the routine and structure that Back to School would bring.

If I'm truly honest, I was desperate for that free head space time so that I can get the house organised and work out what happens next without feeling stressed myself. Today though, I realised how much I will miss both my girls; my company, my driving force, my raison d'etre.

'Mummy, I'm scared of going back to school' was what Sasha came out with at bedtime. Not unusual thoughts for lots of children at this time I'm sure, but they are pretty much the only words she's uttered to me about her feelings the whole holidays. To be fair, I've deliberately not brought the conversation up before today, because I knew even the thought of it would make her highly anxious. Of course I've written about this before (see Back To School nerves) and it's still true that my anxiety levels are high too.

School is not a happy place for Sasha. I'm still amazed that she agrees to go (well, let's see what tomorrow brings...) but I think that's partly down to the school treating her well, her need to be sociable even when that causes her many issues, and her desire for routine. It's also because I don't think she's yet fully grasped the control she has overall, so it's simply not occurred to her to say that she doesn't want to go and for her to expect she can stay home. Her big sister goes to school, so therefore she goes to school.

Right now, she is anxious, understandably. I hope she can get to sleep soon, or else the school day tomorrow will seem very long to her. She touched briefly on the reality of being at school and the fact it's not 'fun' as the iPad was switched off at bedtime.... I give it until five minutes in to the assembly first thing tomorrow before she decides she'd rather be at home.

Here are my top three tips for how to help a child with autism ease back in to school life:

Plan ahead

Any good school would have started this in the summer term, with transition plans. We had a booklet with some photos in from when Sasha went to visit the new classroom, so she understands where her locker and table will be, which door she enters, and who the staff working with her are.

Relationships and trust are key to everything that children with Pathological Demand Avoidance do, so it was important for our girl to meet face-to-face with those who will work with her most of the time. In our case, there will be a teacher who is brand new to the school and so it was also important for her to get to know Sasha a bit better in advance of the first day back.

Share information

Since Sasha started school (we had the benefit of an early diagnosis) we've taken in a 'one-page-profile' at the start of every school year. That's a single side of A4 which lists her strengths, difficulties, likes and dislikes - a personal profile. We've shared that with SENCOs, teachers and assistants, and it has also been extremely useful for the occasional out of school activity which she has tried, such as Brownies or gymnastics. I will share it here on my blog in a separate post, as it has been such a helpful tool - or at least I think so. Maybe those that we pass it on to just think we're a bit weird and it's unnecessary... but honestly, I think it helps to know what makes Sasha tick, and how much she understands and can cope with.

Consider the timetable

Breaking it down into daily activities helps to allay fears of the unknown. We received a plan for the first day back and that's all we need right now (though hopefully we'll have a plan for the week ahead that we can run through with her at the weekend!). Of course all schools are subject to last minute changes, so we also prepare for that by using words such as 'hopefully' whilst reinforcing the thought that the timetable may change if necessary.

Of course I'm sure there are many other suggestions, not least the one about easing them back into a good sleep pattern (ahem), but we can't all be perfect, eh?!

For now, and for tomorrow, I will have to console myself with the pictures from our holiday, visiting my parents back at the start of summer. Happy memories win the day!

In her happy place, digging on the beach with no-one else to be seen for miles

The big smile was for the seventh (not the last) trip on the Wallace and Grommit ride

Steph's Two Girls - am wondering if it's time to update my slightly old blog logo?!

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