Monday 8 May 2017

Back to school struggles with autism

There are many children who struggle with going back to school, but those with autism tend to find it particularly difficult. Any transitions can be a challenge; many children with autism crave routine and any changes to routines can create high anxiety.
This is an old picture, but it often comes to mind as it shows Sasha at a time when she was full of anxiety, despite being in a calm place.
There are some children with Pathological Demand Avoidance who give the appearance of not needing the same level of routine; it seems as if they can 'chop and change' and make decisions for themselves about what they want to do and when. It took us a while to realise that routine is still very important for our girl; it's like a comfort blanket which she needs when her anxiety levels are at their highest.

So for that reason it doesn't come as a shock to us that she is never keen on going back to school after the longer holiday breaks. We've known for some time that she's not ecstatic about going to school every day anyway, so it's understandable that she would be unhappy at the idea of starting again after a longer break at home for the holidays.

This term, Back to School was on Tuesday for us, after an INSET day. For various reasons we'd not talked much about school over the holidays (partly because I knew subconsciously that it wasn't going to be well received) and so I left it until the afternoon before to mention to Sasha that the next day was return day.

Her demeanour changed instantly as I told her; smile wiped, shoulders hunched, quiet descended and she asked to be left alone. At bedtime, the tears came - quietly, nothing dramatic, but in a way that's worse. Sasha doesn't often show her emotions so it tends to hit home more when she does.

It was the first time that Sasha explicitly asked if I could 'home-school' her. She told me that the two weeks Easter holiday felt like just two days, and that every hour at school feels like ten weeks. In her words, she is 'not the girl for sitting inside all day', she wants 'to be outside learning'. 'Nothing at school is fun', and she doesn't want to do any more maths or literacy tests, because she is just not the sort of girl who is good at tests. There is nothing good about school. She told me that she doesn't want to go again, ever, and that she needs to be taught in a fun way.

So anyhow, I braced myself. With our imminent house move (whole other story there...), I pointed out to her that I had a lot to do during the days while she is at school (I'm decorating the house behind the builders as they finish rooms) and I talked about how I needed her to give it a go so that we could get moved successfully and then think about our school options after that.

I felt a bit guilty; I don't really have the headspace to think about the longer term future right now and I was hoping she would go along with it, although I wasn't at all confident she would. However, it seemed to work, and although she didn't exactly skip in to school the next day, she did go in and stay in, which was a small miracle in my eyes!

Then she went in the next day, and the next, always touch and go, until we got to Thursday evening, and sudden panic as we realised it was going to be a Viking dress-up day the next day. Although we'd been told about it well before Easter, many parents had forgotten, so at least I didn't feel alone.

Sasha has never been a fan of dressing up, or activity days, for several reasons. We have however had some luck in the last few years, on and off, thanks to just one piece of stretchy white fabric. This has been her Tudor, Egyptian, Greek and Viking costume - and possibly a couple of others I've forgotten! Luckily she's never been bothered much about looking the part exactly and this soft white dress has enabled her to join in easily.

The whole issue of seeing her classmates and teachers in unusual outfits can make Sasha feel very anxious. She was sure that Viking day might mean lots of scary outfits.

Thankfully, the class Whats App group came up trumps as it allowed me to ask for pictures of what the other children might be wearing. Some lovely parents sent me over photos of their children, and it helped Sasha so much to see what they would be wearing - she was reassured that there was nothing much scary at all about the costumes!

Sasha was still a little hesitant about going in that morning, but she stayed all day, and I've even since seen some fab video footage of her taking part in a pretend battle and roaring with the best of them! So glad that she managed to overcome her fears this time. Every time she tries something like this it is a huge achievement for her and I'm sure it will help her to take part in more events going forward.

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