The seasons change. Politics change. Caterpillars change. Its hard, all this change. You never know what is coming next. Hmm…. what else changes… oh, that’s right. Our children change. By the minute. They grow and mature and learn and explore and every day they wake up and are new people. Occasionally I come downstairs in the morning and see these two gangly, long-legged boys in my kitchen and I think, #@&*#$, they have grown up while I have slept!! Honestly, I was at the playground looking for my daughter the other day, staring almost right at her and didn’t recognize her immediately because I was “looking” for a shorter, rounder, wobblier, toddler with two floppy pigtails. What I found was a taller, slimmer, adventurous little girl with two pony tails bouncing around as she swung on the monkey bars. My idea of who my daughter is and the reality of who she is growing into were conflicted for a moment. Its enough to throw a parental brain for a loop whist trying to manage calendars full of field trips, play dates, sports games, family events and various lessons. Do you know what else is hard? Big transitions. Transitions from pre-Kindergarten to Kindergarten can be hard for any parent. For a parent of a special needs child it can be especially nerve-racking. My oldest son went to a special needs pre-Kindergarten where the teachers were all special education qualified educators, there were multiple aides in each classroom. Every child had various support aids to use in the classroom such as seat cushions to help with sitting still, weighted vests, hug vests, head phones etc. Children received special services for speech, social skills, and occupational therapy. It was a cocoon of warmth and gentle learning for these unique children who may require non-traditional support to begin their formal education. The very idea that I was going to take my 5-year-old autistic child and drop him off at an elementary school where he would walk into the building by himself and somehow find a classroom was just terrifying. Absurd really. Firstly, M was, well, still is I guess, a wanderer. I was horrified that he might get lost at school and end up wandering down the street following a cute dog he saw out the window or something similar. We’ve lost him before so this was not far fetched in my mind. We sent him to camp and they lost him on the first day. And then again on the second day. We lost him on vacation once within our hotel resort for 3 hours and I have never properly recovered from that. (I’m not sure that he even noticed.) We even lost him at home one time in the yard which is why my property is gated like Fort Knox. Its to keep the children in, not necessarily to keep others out. In any case, this transition takes preparation on the parents’ part, on the part of the school, and some practice for the child. Here are some of my top suggestions:
*Make preparations for your child to meet their classroom teacher beforehand, and also the special education teacher if possible.
*If your child is entering with an IEP, they will probably have a plan in place and support notes, but in my experience it is a good idea to bring a (small) note with any special supports your child may need in the classroom such as headphones, vests or toileting instructions/ directions. For example: Some ASD children cannot handle the loudness of the flushing toilet in an echoing restroom stall.
*Ask to speak to the school nurse about your child just to get to know them, possibly send an e-mail to be kept on file for any school incidents that may occur. For example: My son cannot handle being dirty and it causes him to stem. If he fell and were covered with dirt and possibly some blood from a skinned knee outside, this would cause him to stem and it might be unnerving to someone who is not familiar with stemming. I know what you’re thinking! They’re a nurse! Surely they are aware of the special needs students in the school. In my experience, not necessarily. There are a lot of students at an elementary school. Trust me, its worth your five minutes.
*Label everything on the inside and out if possible. I put luggage tags on my children’s lunch boxes and backpacks. I also suggest Mabels Labels for coats, gloves and sweaters and shoes. Glove clips are also a godsend. I got mine from Classy Paci on Etsy. (This vendor does pacifier clips and glove clips.)
*Be “Loud and Proud”! Don’t be nervous about your special needs child playing on the playground with neurotypical or developmentally typical children. This isn’t the 80’s. Children are consistently in integrated classrooms as much as possible. They are used to seeing and being around children who may be physically different or who may have varying behaviors. Its wonderful social skill practice for everyone. Adults included. Don’t be shy about play dates or attending school events. School and socializing are for everyone. If your child needs support for a school-sponsored PTA event, be sure to ask for it beforehand.
*As the school year progresses allow your child to show off their talents or special interests to their classmates. This may include bringing in a book to describe themselves: All Cats Have Aspberger’s comes to mind, showing off fancy tech skills (autistic techies anyone?) for a class presentation with a self-made video or musical piece. Is your child a math whiz? Do they know a LOT about a certain animal? Have a love for patterns? Help them find a way to show it off for a Show-And-Tell Day or other special class event. (Usually there are several of these in Kindergarten.)
Take a deep breath. You can do this. Your child can do this.