This afternoon my children start the long summer break from education. My daughter will leave her nursery years behind and begin her formal education in August and my son will have completed his first year at school and will say goodbye to his teacher for the last time as she moves to another school. Except, unlike most children, neither of them have any idea what is going on.
For ten months Isaac’s life has been consistent. He has spent 6 hours a day at school wearing his beloved red jumper and being with the same four other children and staff. He has grasped the routine of swimming, sensory room visits, school dinners and outside playtime. He has become accustomed to going on a taxi journey every morning. He has no concept of holidays at all so seven weeks without this consistency and routine will really confuse him. He will still insist on wearing his red school jumper, because that is what he always does.
He might be on holiday from school but he won’t get a holiday from his autism, or his learning difficulties, or his neurofibromatosis, or his developmental delay. And we won’t get a holiday from them either.
By the time he has adjusted to any new routine of being at home, going trips out, or eating lunch at home, it will be time to start preparing him for his return to school.
While his teacher, speech therapist, support workers, and even his respite carers all get a summer break, we, his parents, have to become all of the above and more in order to keep his development on track and continue to encourage his communication. Except, unlike the professions, we don’t get a full nights sleep, or a wage, or have access to wonderful resources. We get to do it without training, support or a break. We do it out of love.
For three years now all Naomi has known is nursery life. We have read books about school, she has had a few visits, she has seen photos of what her brother has done at school, and we have her new uniform and school bag ready. But still she asked yesterday morning what would she do when she no longer goes to nursery! Because until the reality of starting school happens she can not ‘imagine’ herself doing anything different. Like all 5 year olds she lives in the moment. Seven weeks away is like years away to her. As she hears all the staff saying goodbye, as she hands them presents to say thanks, as she empties out her tray of all her art work and letters, she still hasn’t fully understood that she won’t be back there again. As adults it can be hard to think what any new routine will look like and it can take time to adapt to changes. It will seem strange for me not to hang her coat up on the peg we have used for years now, to put her slippers in her bag for the last time or to drive out the car park knowing I won’t be there again. I find it hard to imagine my tiny five-year old will be wearing a shirt and tie or school pinafore in just a few months time. This change is big for me, so it is huge for my daughter.
So we say goodby to her key worker, her learning support teacher, her speech therapist, her assistant Head and Head teacher. I look at their faces and realise just how many meetings we have attended together over the years, how many times we have discussed my daughters difficulties, how many strategies we have worked on together and how many forms we have all filled in. They now get a holiday from all this. And while we may get a break from meetings and discussions with all these professions, and many others beside, we will still have to work on communication strategies, self help skills, independence, gross motor development and toilet training throughout the summer. Once again we will be working on all these without training, support, sleep or access to the resources they have.
Naomi’s challenges won’t disappear for the summer. In actual fact they may become more pronounced as she struggles with the lack of structure, becomes more social isolated due to not being around her peers and becomes even more attached to me and therefore more anxious when she is apart from me. While she will be delighted to not be forced into social situations or have to join in with others, seven weeks of being allowed to play on her own, being restricted by the needs of her brother, never being away from me and not being challenged in her communication with others will have a big effect on her confidence socially and in her general development.
While I will do my utmost to keep my children entertained, stimulated and happy throughout the summer I also need to keep working on their communication and social skills and their physical and mental development. And we still have hospital and clinic visits throughout as well. Except now we have to take two children along to them all.
I know all the professional who have worked with my children this year deserve a break. I know it is good for my children to have a rest from formal education too. But while they all begin that break at 1pm today the batons gets passed to me and my husband.
Seven weeks of no speech therapy support; no breaks while the children are at school and nursery to get on with paperwork, housework or shopping; no respite; no school meals; no access to the support and resources his school has to offer; and no extra funding to provide any extra support the children need.
Holidays? What holidays??