Letting go

So, in just one day’s time my son will start his school life. It feels so wrong. He is just not ready. Bright as he is, there is no way he has the appropriate development for a child about to start their formal education. He’s still in nappies, is limited verbally, has difficulty in understanding situations and instructions, difficulty relating to other children and difficulty managing his emotions and behaviour. He’s not a four year old- he’s a two year old. He’s autistic. And we’re sending him to school.
 
What’s more, we’re sending him to a school that could well be wrong for him. Having spent every day of the last six weeks with him, I have to ask if going mainstream is the right decision. And if so, is this the right mainstream school? The signs so far have not been encouraging. Elsewhere on this blog I’ve written about the school’s reluctance and apparent nerves about taking him on. News of his statement and full support seem to have calmed their nerves a little (I had a quick meeting with them during the holiday) but I would hardly say they are welcoming him with open arms. On his statement it says, “B should be educated in a positive and encouraging environment”. I haven’t seen much of that so far.
 

I shouldn’t be too hard on myself about the choice of school, because in fact we had no choice. The statement arrived half way through the holidays but of course his place had been decided way before that. The locality of the school and the fact that his brother was going there made it the obvious choice. And it’s a good school. Their results (like they matter) are always excellent and I would say, as a mainstream school, they are amongst the best in the area. I’m sure our neuro-typical son will do very well there. But the way they responded to B was like an autistic child had never stepped foot in their school before. In hindsight we could have perhaps been looking elsewhere. Perhaps it’s not too late.

Any school taking him on has a big responsibility to provide for him. Today, I read through his statement again. I’ve never seen a statement of educational needs before, but it seems very extensive in its  outline of provision. Once it has been finalised, the school has a responsibility to deliver what it says he needs. This includes a “suitably modified and differentiated curriculum”, “structured daily programmes of support”, even things like, “careful arrangement of the classroom”. The school are answerable to a lot. I hope they can deliver.

One thing that is calming my nerves is the fact that Autism Outreach will spend the first two weeks with him, all day every day, in the classroom. I think this is a fantastic level of support. Not only will he have expert help, but the school will have on-site autism advice and support. I’m hoping that, as issues arise (and they will), AO will be able to suggest ways of dealing with them and strategies that could be picked up when they leave. We are lucky to have this service in our borough. I emailed AO today with a somewhat panicky ‘is this a big mistake?’ kind of message. I know what they will say- the settling in sessions went well, he’s bright, he’s got support, he’ll be alright.
 
As well as offering support to B, I hope that Autism Outreach can be my eyes and ears in the school for the first two weeks. I’d hope that they are able to be completely open and honest to me about how B is coping and how well the school is likely to cope once they’ve left. I have not signed the statement yet and no school is named on it. Once that is signed, and a learning support assistant employed, moving schools becomes a much more complicated and drawn out procedure. At that point it becomes a matter of proving that school is failing him. I reckon at the moment we have a small window of opportunity to say, “this isn’t going to work,” and send him elsewhere. I may be deluding myself about this. Maybe it isn’t quite so simple. I suppose I’m just preparing myself for doing something if I have to. I’ve learnt that no-one can advocate for your child in the way you can. Waiting for the services and authorities to make things happen is pointless. Sadly, you have to push to make things happen. That’s one thing I’ve learnt from the whole statementing process.
 

Today, we finally got round to putting B in his school uniform for the first time. We managed to hold back the tears as I attempted to get him standing still long enough for a photo. He looked so grown up, no longer our baby. I think this is what worries me the most- up until now, B has never had to be anything but our baby. His circumstances have never changed before in his life. Developmental delay and autism have never mattered really because he’s always been at home. Whether he was one, two or three, his life was the same. There were none of the expectations of him that will be there once he starts school. Everything changes now. There will be so much he cannot do, so much of school life that is confusing, upsetting and inaccessible to him. Children will stare at him. His brother will get grief about it, maybe start thinking about him differently. I can’t help but ask myself, ‘how is this going to work?’

I need to look on the bright side. There is support in place. He won’t come to harm. He does not have the autistic tendency to dislike change, so he should be okay. I don’t think he understands what going to school entails at all, but he is quite happy about the idea when you ask him.

Perhaps then, we are the ones that are not ready. Our youngest one is off to school and letting go is really, really difficult. I doubt there is a single parent of a four year old who doesn’t feel that way to a certain extent this week. I have to remind myself sometimes that some problems are not autism problems, they are typical parenting problems. There will be other children who are not ready.

Six months have passed since B was diagnosed as autistic. In that time we have achieved such a lot. He starts school with a full statement and one to one support. He’s got a good team behind him and we will continue to help him through this next stage in his life. What’s more, he needs to go to school. B is a child who loves to be active, to be engaged, to be stimulated. A good school can give him that. He’ll be alright. It’s time to let go.

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3 Responses to Letting go

  1. Louise says:

    You echo my fears exactly for my son when he starts in a year’s time but everyone tells me that he may well be fine as he does ok at preschool but its so hard especially as I am told we would be lucky to get any support at all, unbelievable really when he can’t even answer or ask simple questions. I think it is so true about your comments that you would worry even if your child does not have autism, sometimes I forget that, I worried myself sick when my oldest started school !! Thank you again for your post, I hope B has had a good couple of days.

    • B's dad says:

      Louise,
      We were told ‘he’s not too bad’ and that we would be lucky to get much support. Now B has 32.5 hrs per week. In our case, Specialist Early Years Service were wrong. You know your child best and you can apply for a statement yourself. If you apply now and get rejected, you can apply again in six months time, so there’s not much to lose. Talk to Parent Partnership, contact his intended school, get preschool to gather evidence that might support your case. I think we got where we are by being pushy. Feel free to email me if you think I can help you any further with this.

  2. Louise says:

    B’s dad
    It would be great if I could email you, however struggling to work out how to do it, I have just suscribed to this blog so do you now have visibilty of my email, its a blueyonder account and I suscribed at around 12.30?
    Regards
    Louise

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