It is the first day of the new school term here and my daughters first ever day at school. I took the standard parent ‘first day back’ photos and posted them on social media. The usual comments ‘they look so smart’ ‘good luck’ and ‘have a great day’ all touch my heart.
There is so much that has gone into today, way beyond the simple purchasing of new school wear, shoes, washing and ironing uniforms and packing bags. For weeks now I have had to prepare these children for this major change in routine, even though it was previously familiar to Isaac. Seven weeks is a long time in a child’s life to get used to going out with the family, eating lunch at home and playing with toys and technology.
So my autism mummy mode took over and prepared social stories for Naomi, visuals for Isaac and lots of walks to Naomi’s new school even though it was closed. Both of them have books all about their summer to take into school. And we have read about Topsy and Tim, Biff, Chip and Kipper and everyone else you can think of starting school!
Isaac has a photo album full of stories and photos to share with his teacher. He has no other way to share his experiences from the last two months as he can not speak. I sat with him for days going through all the photos we had on his Ipad and having him point to the ones he especially liked. Then I sent them off to get printed. There was no surprises that the majority featured food! But it is his story and if he was able to talk these are the things he would want to tell his new teacher about. As his teacher is brand new to the school and only knows about Isaac from information the school has (assuming this has been read), I so hope someone will sit with him and take a few minutes to allow him to share his summer with them. This is as much about transitioning from home as it is to school. We are all in this together.
Naomi’s new school had given the children a summer scrapbook to do at home. The pages were blank which immediately caused Naomi huge anxiety. She needed guidance and instruction and clear boundaries and pages that could contain ‘anything about your summer’ where far too vague. So I helped her structure her ideas and we had a lovely time together as she drew her family, stuck down photos of some things she enjoyed and cut pictures from magazines. Once again I hope someone takes the time to get to know my daughter and puts no pressure on her to speak if she can not yet overcome her anxiety to do so.
We hit some very real challenges when we found out that transport arrangements for taking Isaac to school were all changing. I sighed. If only the ‘powers that be’ had any idea how change affects my babies. For the sake of saving pennies they change contracts and providers taking no account of the needs of the children. How would they feel to watch their child bite himself, bang his head and run back inside the house when he has to meet a new driver and escort and see a new taxi? I bet their heart would break like mine. But I swallow hard and do what we can. Take photos of the people, the taxi, and his school. But still we have the screaming and the self harming. And all I can do is pray; pray that he might one day understand, pray for patience for these new people in his life and pray for a way to help my baby understand. And then I realise our fatal mistake! We arranged for them to visit at dinner time! It really was that simple. We had been saying ‘see taxi’ and ‘new driver’ and ‘school taxi’ to him and in his mind he never gets in a taxi at that time of day and he certainly doesn’t go to school after his tea! So when it came to the day, the one you all see the photo of, off he went. Because that was right: first taxi, then school! And the promise of a school dinner had him flying right out the house. (was my cooking for the last seven weeks really THAT bad?) Can you tell any of the trauma we went through just from the photo?
There’s more than meets the eye.
As I took Naomi to her school for the first day and finally left her in her classroom sitting at her desk with all the other children I had the same emotions as all the other parents there. What you don’t see is the fact she is the first child to go to that school who isn’t toilet trained. She is the only child in the room wearing a nappy. And she drank her milk that morning from a bottle too. But as all the other parents made their way out of the building a line of adults waited to talk to me. Then I suddenly realise there is more going on: An autism outreach worker, two classroom assistants, the class teacher and the new Head teacher too all waiting to introduce themselves. Though they were not in today there will also be speech and language therapist, occupational therapist and various other professionals involved too. Because I have pushed for as much support as I can get. She may be going to mainstream but she will jolly well be supported.
There will be meetings, reports and iep’s written up within weeks. There are still some unknowns but she went there today, and she held it together. And I am so proud of her for that.
This afternoon and tonight we will have the aftermath of the first school day. The stress doesn’t end for these children at the school gate. Autism, nf1 and developmental delays are 24-7. We will have it today, tomorrow and forever.
The photos are a great memory of one special day. Thank you for liking them, commenting and loving us.
Please remember though that behind those photos there is more going on than meets the eye.
And that will be the same for so many families of special needs children too.