In September my middle son Louie started his first year in full-time school. Louie was diagnosed Autistic in May 2016 at the age of 3 and a half. In my post, Autism – How I Knew, you can read more about Louie’s diagnosis story.
As Louie’s first full term draws to an end I thought I would take the time to let you know how it has been for him and us as a family. When I think back to the beginning of September and my anxiety as to what this new journey would bring, I would never have envisaged such a positive outcome. Here is my summary of the first term, month by month.
The whole month of September was a series of weeks where we gently increased Louie’s time at school. At first just a couple of hours, leading up to lunch, then lunch at school and eventually full days. This worked very well, ensuring the whole experience was not too overwhelming although it took a while for Louie to get to know his teachers and one to one support and them to know him. Once they established his triggers and understood how he generally expresses his emotions Louie seemed a lot more settled.
Socially Louie was still “parallel playing” at this stage (playing alongside rather than interacting with other children) and very possessive over certain toys he deemed as his. Although his class is very small in numbers, Louie does find it difficult playing and interacting with groups of children. Therefore a separate table was set aside for him, which enables him to have his own space. Also on this table are a range of calming techniques such as his sea life books and certain toys and activities which he can access any time he is feeling overwhelmed. I am so proud of how Louie can do this both at home and school and it gives me confidence that as he grows older he will be able to use his own coping strategies effectively.
Other techniques to aid his transition into school life were visual timetables and a First and Then board. The visual timetable enables Louie to have a clear insight into what will happen that day and this always helps him to feel more secure and happy. The First and Then board is also visual and something we use at home. It has two boxes labelled First and Then, and in each box you put a picture of what is happening e.g. First – breakfast Then – get dressed. This has always worked well with us as a family and allows Louie to know exactly what is going to happen next, which lessens his anxiety.
During the weeks leading up to the October half term I saw a dramatic change in Louie. He seemed confident, self-assured and happy. He actively sought to become more independent and finally started to attempt dressing himself, we still haven’t mastered it but seeing him try each day makes me incredibly proud. I always feared it would be full on war to get him to school each morning but in fact it was the complete opposite. Louie was and still is eager to get to school and even asks to go at the weekends!
Once a week Alice, his sister, attends choir. I knew this would cause upset as I would have to take Louie home and then come back out for Alice. Therefore Louie and I go along to the local church group while Alice is at choir. This has worked wonderfully and Louie loves joining in the activities, especially the gardening aspects of it in the church grounds. Likewise Alice receives some much-needed respite.
One of main concerns since Louie started at the school is for Alice. They have always been extremely close and Alice is one of the kindest, gentlest souls you will meet. She is a very sensitive child and continually worries about Louie. She is only 6 but takes on a lot of concerns for Louie and his well-being. Being an Autism sibling is tough. Louie is very possessive of both objects and people and Alice is who he is most possessive of, to the point he was playing with her all of break and lunchtime. I told Alice she should play with her other friends as well but she told me she doesn’t want Louie to be alone. Unfortunately, although he loves and relies on her so much, Alice can take the brunt of Louie’s meltdowns and outbursts the most, which have become increasingly violent. It has been extremely upsetting to see the level of violence he can direct at myself and Alice, along with my youngest toddler who has started to mirror his behaviour. I have spoken with the school and SENCO (special needs coordinator) who have referred us to a family support worker who will give us some guidance on how to support Alice as well as Louie and hopefully some advice on tackling these outbursts.
I was excited for half term. Unlike some parents who dread half term I have always genuinely enjoyed it. No school runs, my children play nicely and we can do things at our own pace. Except this seemed to be the half term from hell. None of my past strategies seemed to work for Louie. His emotions ranged from rage to tears continually and he couldn’t understand why we were not going to school. Therefore we spent the whole week at home. His behaviour was so volatile it would have been too much for me to take all 3 out alone without any one to one support for Louie.
October came to an end with Halloween. This has always been as tricky one for us as a family. Alice obviously wants to dress up and go but in previous years the costumes and pure mania of knocking on strangers doors for sweets, proved too much for Louie and we would be forced to turn back. Although this year was different. To my surprise Louie asked to dress up, so we bought him a haunted pirate costume and to my amazement he wore it the entire evening on our route around the village. It was a brilliant night for the whole family!
After my hell – on – earth half term I spoke to the school’s SENCO and Louie’s teacher about how we could prepare him for the Christmas Holidays. From now until the end of term Louie will have a Social Story which will be read to him each day. A social story is a simple, short, personalised story which explains to an autistic child how to:
- Manage a behaviour e.g. spitting
- Deal with an unfamiliar situation e.g. a family wedding
- Teach new routines or reinforce routines
- Cope with any new changes for example moving house, new baby etc
- Address any emotional and behavioural issues
This resource has worked brilliantly with Louie. His class has had a short trip out of the school grounds to a nearby nursery for a Road Safety talk. Prior to the trip he was shown a social story explaining exactly what will happen, along with photographs of the route and the nursery building. Louie’s teacher told me that he coped amazingly and enjoyed the trip.
December is now only a few days away and Louie is loving school life. On Friday he attended his first school disco and had so much fun and even had his face painted! I couldn’t believe it, although now a new problem presented itself when he refused to have it washed off. After much convincing he washed it off only to wake me up the following morning with a face full of black felt tip pen informing me “I am Spiderman!” His nativity is in a few weeks and he has been given the part of a camel (much to mine and my husbands amusement regarding Louie’s frequent spitting habit) However I couldn’t be more proud of my little camel, especially as he put his outfit on and refused to take it off for bed and so slept in it – humps and all!
Every day is a new challenge in some aspect for our family. Some days I am an emotional wreck just trying to hold everything together as best I can, collapsing in a heap once the front door is closed. Other days I feel stronger and overwhelmed with the progress Louie has made in such a short time and how well he has adapted and embraced his new journey. I love hearing from other parents who message me asking about Louie’s progress and sharing their experiences. Please get in touch if you are dealing with anything similar or just need a chat, because sometimes that’s all we need! Thanks for reading as always.