We’ve almost made it. Summer holidays are nearly over, and tomorrow school is about to begin!
Parents and children all around the country have mixed feelings of relief, excitement, nervousness, and fear. New classes, new teachers, the chance to get back to a regular routine, September brings with it a month of change. For Tommy it will be the biggest change of all, leaving nursery behind and starting school full-time
Right now, as I sit here writing this I feel all of the above.
Relief that we can get back to a normal routine, instead of having to try and find ways to keep them both occupied, and separate all day every day.
Excitement, that the new school year might see more breakthroughs, more progression, more ‘milestones’ reached (or inch-stones as we like to call them around here).
Nervousness about how Jude will react to going back to school, will he settle into a new class ok? Will he be happy Jude or anxious Jude? How will Tommy react going to school for the first time?
Fear that Tommy will be overwhelmed, and not understand what is going on. Will he be scared on that first day when we leave him? Will he realise that he will be coming home at the end of the day and he’s not just been abandoned?
It’s the day before all of this is about to happen, and Tommy and Jude are oblivious to all of these emotions racing around inside of me. They are just carrying on as if it’s any other day, with no comprehension of what is just around the corner for them.
They are both currently non-verbal, and have limited communication skills, so it’s really difficult to know how much they understand.
Communication can cause Jude to feel anxious. You can’t really tell him too much more than what is about to happen right now, in the next few minutes, without causing confusion, or for him to get upset. Sometimes he doesn’t even want me to speak, let alone talk to him about going back to school. Trying to explain what’s going to happen on Monday would be pointless, he can’t understand that far in advance
Apart from a few spells, the last school year was pretty challenging for Jude. He spent much of it upset, his self-harming increased again, it was a tough year all round. Then, the last few weeks of the summer term it was as if the fog suddenly lifted, and he was much happier. He’s had a happy summer at home too. Here he can be on his own schedule, we cater to his every need, and he is pretty much in full control.
So, the first real notion he’s going to get that school is about to return is when we dress him in his uniform tomorrow morning. As it will probably be too warm for a school jumper, even that might not make it sink in.
Maybe it will be when we go to get in the car, and he sees me carrying his school bag, maybe that will trigger a recognition of where he is about to go.
If not, he’ll definitely realise once we get to the last 5 minutes of the drive, he’ll know the route I’m taking is only going to mean one thing. I’ll call the school office, and one of his teachers will meet us at the door, put his bag on his back, and lead him off to his new class.
This year Jude will be with a new main teacher, and most of his classmates will no longer be with him. Hopefully, the change will be a good thing. He clearly struggled around some of his peers over the last 2 years, so maybe a change is exactly what he needs.
Then there’s Tommy.
He was due to start school last September, but we decided to defer him for a year whilst we tried to find the right school setting for him
He has no idea that on Monday he will not be going back to nursery like he does every Monday. Instead, he will get into the car, be driven for 40 minutes, and be dropped off at his new school. He’ll be there from 9 until 3, when he’ll then be put on a mini bus with 7 or 8 other children (including his brother) and driven home again.
I can’t wait for him to settle into school, I know he is so ready for it now and I’m sure it will be so good for him. Yet, I can’t help but imagine what will be going through his mind on that first day. That feeling of not understanding where he is, why he is there, or when will he be going home.
I have to admit, I’m scared for him. My mind has been going into overdrive, unanswerable questions spinning around inside my head as the big day get closer and closer
What will he think that day when we drop him off and leave him? Will he understand why he’s being left there?
Will he like the teachers and other staff that are going to be looking after him for the next year?
Will he eat anything when he’s there?
Will he be able to cope with the other children in his class?
What if he has a meltdown as the amount of change is all too much for him?
Will he be able to communicate what it is he needs, and will the teachers understand him?
What will he be thinking when he’s put on the bus? Where will he think he’s going?
What if he’s really unhappy? How will we know?
I know most of these worries are normal, the same as all parents about to leave their child for the first time. For the vast majority of parents about to send their kids off for their first day, they will have been discussing it for months with their child. They will be slowly preparing them for the big day, explaining to them what school will be like, telling them which of their friends will be there too.
That’s not a reality for us.
I’ve spoken about it with him, many times, but when your child is non-verbal and has such limited communication skills, it’s really difficult to know how much he understands.
So, right now I have no way of knowing if it’s making a difference or not. If he does understand, is it something he’s happy about, or scared of?
There’ll be no familiar faces for him there. Tommy’s going to a special needs school, a 40-minute drive from where we live. Any children he’s grown up with in our town, or in the local nursery are all going to mainstream schools that are nearby.
Imagine you woke up tomorrow with no way of communicating with people. Someone put you in a car, drove you somewhere new, dropped you off and just left you with some strangers. You’ve no idea how long you’ll be there. You’ve no idea when you’re next going to see your mum or dad. You’ve no idea where the food or drink is. How can I let them know I’m hungry? How can I let them know what I want?
That’s how I imagine it for Tommy, and sometimes it freaks me out
When he does finish his first day and get home, there’ll be no way of him telling us what he did, if he enjoyed it, if he was scared. We’ll have to rely on feedback from the teachers, and watch for any differences in behaviour at home.
Don’t get me wrong, I am really excited for Tommy. I know this is what he needs, and I believe this school will help bring the best out of him. They’ll help him progress, take the next steps, and take really good care of him.
It’s just the protective parent in me is struggling with the thought of him being so confused, scared even, wondering why he’s just been left in this strange place. When that first day ends and he gets led off into the school bus, he really won’t know what’s going on. He’ll see his brother on there (not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, for him or for Jude) and then he’ll make the long trip home.
I hope it will make sense to him after a few days. I have to remember that 4 years ago Jude was in the exact same position, and I would have been even more scared for him back then. Whilst school might not always be his favourite place, the routine of putting on his uniform and getting in the car, is one that’s familiar to him. He knows what’s going on, he might not always like it, but he knows he’s going to school.
And I guess it can’t be any worse than taking Jude.
There’s been times where Jude would start to cry as we pulled up outside, and as you drop him off you can hear the meltdown happening as he walks through the corridor to the classroom. That’s a difficult feeling to deal with, leaving him there knowing how upset he is going to get.
No matter how confused Tommy might be, I’m sure he won’t handle it in the same way as Jude does.
Maybe, I’m being over-protective? Maybe I’m just being the type of parent that autism creates. I know deep down we just have to do it, prepare as much as we can and hope for the best. The teachers there have done this before, worked with children like Tommy before. I know they’ll do everything they can to help him settle in, I just can’t wait until he does