Back to School

What a shocking start to June hey?! Its blooming awful where we are but I’m pleased to inform you the trampoline is still where we left it, despite the wind. I tell you I’m relieved we had our gutters professionally cleaned yesterday. They’re working over time now!

Oscar’s had a terrible week or so, with all recent the changes in routine. I think he’s just telling me he’s not happy about it. His return to preschool, which I thought would bring him some relief, actually didn’t seem to be the magic wand I hoped it would be. As soon as we turned into the school’s road, he started squirming and crying and shouting ‘Uh Uh’, ‘Uh Uh’. I eventually talked him into getting out of the buggy, but then he insisted on being held and would not get down or even be passed to his favourite Miss Tasha. I guess a lot of children go through this when they return to school after any sort of break, but it kinda threw me. He’s never, ever been clingy to me the whole time he’s been going there. Not on his first day, not after Easter, never. And I guess I handled it badly. I stayed with him, less for Oscar’s sake (I fully appreciate that children are often fine as soon as their parents leave) but more that I didn’t want the staff to potentially have to deal with a true Autistic melt down first thing on a Monday morning!

So I stayed. I went in the garden with him and told his TA all about how amazing he was on our recent trip to Wales and he calmed right down. So then I tried to leave and he started all over again (see I told you I handled it poorly!) Anyway eventually I managed to leave him, and was grabbed for a quick, impromptu meeting with his EYIA (local authority lady) who was visiting that day. Which was fine, until I heard Oscar screaming outside the room we were in.

I know I should have left it. Let the staff deal with it. But I just couldn’t. I jumped up and practically ran to him. Which, of course, made things worse and worse. Eventually I asked his TA if she just wanted me to stay, but she (quite rightly) said it would be better for me to leave, or he’d expect me to be there every session. She assured me she was prepared to deal with any melt downs and so I left. In a great big mental tizzy. I wasn’t upset, so much as confused and.. well no I was upset.

You see I don’t cope well without the surety of his routine either. I’ve always needed to know we had things planned from his earliest days, but the older he gets the more I need the small amount of time I get without him. Two weeks being ‘on’ with him has been exhausting. I feel the disruption in the rhythm of our lives just as keenly as I suspect he does. By the end of last week neither of us were coping very well.

I was totally focusing on him going back to school, rather selfishly, for my own relief. When it didn’t work out how I expected it threw me kinda sideways, I wont lie to you. So when I finally left him I did what every good 21st Century mama who has an hour to kill does. I headed to a favourite haunt, ordered coffee, a granola bar (granola’s healthy right? 😉 ) and dived into social media. I thought I might write a post, but it turned out having a rant/laugh on Twitter, was much better for the soul that day.

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I returned to collect him feeling calmer but actually quite apprehensive as to what I’d find and, more importantly, be left to deal with for the rest of the day. His teachers told me he’d calmed down eventually, although had continued to ask to leave. He was pleased to see me and keen to get in his buggy, which in itself is unusual, but they were right, he was calmer. The tears were gone and he did seem much more relaxed.

So maybe it just took him a while to figure it out. To hear the beat that we usually live our lives by and start to dance in to it again. I don’t know. I’ll probably never know. He’s been much calmer the rest of the week too (despite the filthy weather). Monday left me dreading Friday’s drop off. Now I’m just aware it might hard. And being aware means I can change my expectations and plan to act accordingly.

What’s the betting he runs in without a glance back, like usual?

Hope your back to school’s went well and your children are finding their rhythm this half term.

xx

 

 

 

Time for (Pre)School

When the girls in my NCT group started to go back to work at the end of their maternity leave, our meet ups were suddenly aflame with the talk of daycare. Who was going where? The benefits of one over another? It got, dare I say, a tad competitive and it was the topic of conversation for weeks. God, it was boring. For me. For no other reason that I couldn’t join in. I wasn’t going back to work. I was one of the “lucky ones” apparently. Not that it felt like it at the time. It wasn’t my first plan to give up work after having my son and it left me feeling thoroughly isolated. For a couple of weeks, then I got over myself!

However, the experience left it’s mark. Despite shocked mothers telling me I needed to get Oscar’s name down for preschool immediately (but what I felt was years in advance) I point blank refused. I’d been given the opportunity not to have to worry about ‘all that’ and I resented now being told I had to. I was such a fool. I had no idea how much he’d need preschool when the time came. Or how much I would.

Eventually I capitulated and began to think about where he might go. There are so many nurseries/preschools in and around Haslemere, we really are spoilt for choice. As he was about 20 months old at the time and wouldn’t be able to start until at least the term after he turned 2 and a half (January 2015) I thought we had bags of time. I was wrong. The wide eyed mothers who’d looked at me in shock had been right. Others did put their children down for preschool during (or even before!) their earliest days. Meaning I was somewhat late to the party with my near two year old and it was something of a kick in the teeth to discover that the school we’d chosen didn’t have any places available until September 2015! So my first tip for finding a preschool, is not to be complacent about getting your child’s name down, particularly if you have somewhere in mind.

Despite the long wait, we went ahead and put his name down. It was suggested we could have him go elsewhere until his place became available. It was a valid suggestion, just not one we felt would work for us. As it happened, several families ‘ahead’ of us on the list, declined their places meaning he was able to start in January 2015. So my second tip is don’t be put off by long waiting lists.

So how do you chose the preschool thats right for you and your child? Everyone’s criteria is different, and that’s good. What was important for us might not be for you and vice versa. Thats why I loved having such a large choice locally. For me, the most important criteria was location. Unfortunately I do not have the luxury of being a driver. I could fall in love with a nursery, but if I simply couldn’t get there, what would be the point? That narrowed the field fairly dramatically.

After location, the school’s ethos really had to be one we agreed with. Everyone assumed Oscar would go to our geographically closest nursery, which happened to be a church run one. We were adamant that as atheists this would be unfair to both Oscar (to be taught one thing at school and another at home) and to another child who might miss out on a place we’d only half heartedly taken. So, close as it was, and lovely as it is, that one was off the list.

So once the short list was drawn up, the best thing I did was visit them. I personally feel there is little of value to be learnt from online research where preschools are concerned. I would highly recommend leaving the ofsted reports and reviews at home and getting yourself into the place you’re interested in. Don’t get me wrong, having a gander online is useful. I wouldn’t have found ours without it, but in my opinion nothing can replace the experience of visiting the school itself. I wanted to be able to see where and how my son would spend his time and (let’s not beat about the bush) our money. I tried looking at preschools with children in and without and would highly recommend visiting when other students are present, if at all possible. It’s hard to see the dynamic of an empty classroom and for me this was really important.

As it turned out the preschool I fell in love with and knew I wanted him to go to as soon as I walked through the door, was the one I felt most calm in. It wasn’t the newest or the most snazzy but I just knew it was ‘the one’. Kind of like your wedding dress, I guess. You may want to make your judgement based on more than just a gut instinct and that’s no bad thing. But for me, I just knew.

He’s been going there for five months now and I’ve yet to question that gut instinct. The staff have been as proactive and supportive as I could have hoped for and Oscar has already shown huge improvement in language, communication and socialisation. But mostly he’s happy to go. And Dylan’s Ice Cream are happy for the business they get out of me every Monday morning when I drop Oscar off and head there to drink coffee and use the excellent free WiFi to write my posts.

Yes, when the time came, I really did need preschool, as much as he did.

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A truncated version of this article first appeared in the January 2015 Haslemere and Midhurst NCT Magazine.

A Cornish Mum

School Time!!

So it may have been the start of a new term for many of you last week. A familiar round of new shoes and getting used to leaving the house on time again. However for us it was the start of our first ever term. Oscar started preschool on Monday. You might have read about how nervous I was here.

At our meeting with the school last year, we agreed that due to Oscar’s pronounced speech delay and communication difficulties, that we would phase his start more gradually than is usual. This saw me stay at the nursery with him on both Monday and Friday and only stay for an hour or so, rather than just dropping him off for the full three hours. Today I’m leaving him for the first time. Only 45 minutes but it’s a start.

The school are very routine driven, which I think he will appreciate. In just two sessions I’ve been amazed at how quickly he’s picking things up. On the first morning the head came to the door to welcome him in. He ran straight past her into the main classroom. His teacher, the lovely Miss Becca (they’re all called Miss whatever, I think it’s so cute!) gently directed him back to the hall and took him into the cloakroom to hang up his coat. He wasn’t overly keen to go but he did. However, on his second session on Friday, he turned left instead of right at the door, and headed straight for the cloakroom. It’s such a little thing but due to the lack of speech I often find it difficult to gauge how much he’s actually understanding, so this cheered me greatly.

So far he’s shown no sign of distress whatsoever! He likes to explore the various areas and has taken a particular interest in the nature table. But really his heart so far belongs to the play garden. Even in this cold January weather he’s been happily discovering the sand box, the windmills and the large box of toy cars. On his first day I watched him play alongside another little boy, completely harmoniously, while emptying the car box one vehicle at a time. This little guy then started murmuring half words and Oscar copied him. Pitch, tone, sound, the lot. It was like watching a pair of Furbies singing to each other! It might not sound that unusual, but I have seriously never heard him imitate another child like that. It blew me away (I also saw him place something on a table when asked, something he’ll never do for me!)

I guess in that respect a phased start was as good for me as it was for him. It’s shown me his capability, in so many ways. I think a couple of bad incidences, in very specific situations (someone grabbing and shouting at your child anyone?), clouded my view of Oscar and his behaviour in public. Yes those things happened, but I shouldn’t let them define how I view every situation.

Time to let it go and to move on.

Time for (pre) school!

Ready for his first day

Ready for his first day

It wears him out - so I love it!

It wears him out – so I love it!

Learn something new…..

I’ve spoken before about Oscar starting nursery. I’ve been at home with him since he was born and although his funding doesn’t kick in until Sept 2015, we decided a while back that a small amount of time away from me every week would not be a bad thing for him. In fact we think it’d be really good. Well I think it will be, or am I just blinded by the need I have for time away from him? I wish I could be one of those mums who can happily be by the side of her offspring 24/7, but lets face facts, I’m not and I believe I only made it this far as a SAHM because he sleeps well, both in the day and the night!

Anyway, we had Oscar’s first settling in session at our chosen pre-school last week and I wont lie to you, I was nervous. Much more than I thought I would be and not because I was upset at the thought him growing up, or the thought of having to eventually leave him (we stayed with him for this session) or any of those reasonable worries. I was just petrified he’d turn his face against it, have a melt down, or push someone over. We know that Oscar’s limited speech sometimes results in very physical communication and in an environment he’d only ever been to once before, six months ago… well you get the picture.

Ben took the day off work so we could go together and we tried to explain where we were going to Oscar. As I’m never sure how much he understands, I decided the best thing to do was to stay calm and show him with my behaviour how wonderful a place this was. He let me carry him into the nursery, but once we were inside he wanted down and he was off. We were welcomed by the Head, who I said “hi” to as I ran past her in an attempt to keep up with Oscar. It was only when I was told to leave Oscar in the capable hands of the Head and taken to meet with his Key Worker that I came away from hovering directly over him, running from thing to thing, as he discovered this exciting new world. It was great to meet with the Key Worker. Her whole career has been as a Special Education Needs teacher and she has a wealth of experience of dealing with non verbal children. She gave me great confidence in her and in the school’s capacity to help him, to help me. I know it’s just a feeling and I have no evidence to back this up yet, but sometimes a feeling is all you’ve got to go on. After all it was only a feeling that made us chose this nursery over others in the first place.

We chatted and discussed various communication methods and strategies etc, but I could feel I wasn’t fully paying attention. I just couldn’t stop my eyes flicking from her to him. It was so very rude, but I couldn’t help it. I’m so not used to someone else being ‘responsible’ for him. Every time I looked, I would feel panic rising if I couldn’t see him straight away, not because I was worried he may not be safe, but I needed to know what he was doing and who he was doing it too, constantly. It was exhausting. Only this is what I do all the time and I never really noticed how exhausting it is. As it happens he had a whale of a time, moving from one activity to the next, enjoying each in turn. He played with the ‘everyday living’ skills area and liked the nature table. He rang the bells in the music area and painted a ‘sticky box’ (without trying to paint the child next to him!) When we had to leave he started to cry, until he was given a rice cake. Then he walked out happily, holding my hand. I was slightly flabbergasted really. At no point did I see him push anyone, or even look like he might. He never once got upset and spent the whole time either deep in concentration or laughing.

 

He made a 'sticky box'.

Oscar’s very own ‘sticky box’.

I don’t think I had realised how apprehensive I had been about this experience. As I got in the car I could physically feel my shoulders relax. It was like I was exhaling for the first time in so very long. I know they talk about having a weight lifted, but this really did feel like something had changed. I know it was only one session and I haven’t even left him yet, but I suddenly felt the presence of other hands. I think it’s called support.

We were so very proud of him that we took him to ASK to have his favourite carbonara for lunch. He was a dream in the restaurant, eating loads and charming the waitress and the other diners.

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Pizza fingers and pineapple crisps

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Entertaining the restaurant with a reading from Thomas The Tank Engine

In the afternoon, buoyed by the success of the morning, we took him for a walk up to The Devils Punchbowl. He walked/ran just ahead of us in the path and jumped in puddles ’til his little heart was content. He came when called and revelled in the small amount of freedom we gave him. We took the buggy with us, just in case, and only after a mile and half of walking, did he climb, unprompted and quietly, in to it. We didn’t strap him in and he didn’t try and get out. It was a great end to a fantastic day.

The whole experience really was a revelation to me. Yes there may be times when he can’t do things, even these things, but there are days when he can. I need to have more faith in his abilities.

And to remember to breathe out once in a while.

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Oscar leads the way