After AEIOU, James transitioned to a mainstream Kindy at the daycare centre Thomas was attending. He attended for Term 4 only. They were absolutely fantastic with him and he had a really enjoyable time there. He then commenced mainstream Prep in 2011 at a Catholic primary school in Toowoomba. It was really difficult choosing a school for James as there were so many considerations. We visited one school which had timber flooring throughout. He noted a fridge humming several doors down and wanted to know what was happening further down the corridor as there was lots of noise on the floorboards. With his sensitive hearing, perhaps a school on a concrete slab was a better option. It’s hard to identify whether a school is inclusive based on that first interview. Fortunately, I had done a lot of relief work around Toowoomba in that year and had been fortunate to be able to observe this for myself. We were really pleased with our choice and it’s been a fantastic for community for James in every way. The families are beautiful, the staff has gone above and beyond, and James loves his peer group, and is accepted and well liked by them. We have also been incredibly blessed that he has had two fantastic teachers in Prep and in Year One. As all you parents would know, this makes an enormous difference.
After being at AEIOU where everyone was so experienced with children with autism, I was really nervous about letting James go into a mainstream setting … actually if I’m honest, I was probably just worried about letting him go, period! We went up to the school at the end of the previous year and met his classmates and his teacher. We also visited the school a number of times in the months leading up to him starting at the school. Each time, we took photographs of the school, his classroom, his teacher, the children, all in an effort to prepare him for his first day. He coped with this orientation day OK but he didn’t really interact much with anyone, he just completed the activities and kept fairly close to me.
Before school began, we visited his classroom and his teacher again, and touched base about his needs and how the first week might look. At this school, the Prep students have a graduated entry into the school over the first two weeks, doing part days with only half the children in the class present in a session. This was fantastic for all the kids. James did managed attendance for the first term.
The autism game is a bit like two steps forward, one step back, constantly! These days I think I’m getting a bit better at managing how the ‘step back’ part affects me but it’s still very hard! At the end of the day when I come to pick up James from school, I never know what to expect. Most days, because he has been trying so hard to hold it together all day at school, the afternoons are a nightmare. When James started Prep, Chris and I had initially thought we wouldn’t openly discuss James’ autism with others, we’d just let him find his feet in his own time. However, it got to the point where I just had to disclose James’ situation in order for people to understand him. For example, some afternoons he would fall apart outside the classroom. He would scream and cry, and throw himself to the ground. Then when we finally made it to the carpark, often with me either carrying him or dragging him along, he would try to run away from me, or be screaming hysterically whilst I was trying to get him into the car. I felt the horrified eyes of many families upon us as I struggled with him daily. I finally just decided that we should send a letter home, along with one from the school, explaining the situation. It was the best thing we ever did! With understanding, comes acceptance and tolerance. Suddenly, other mums were helping me to the car with him and just generally being more supportive. People can be amazing when they fully understand a situation, and if you’re honest and open.
Some days after experiencing this giant, exhausting process of getting James to the car after school, I do allow myself a moment or two just to gather myself once we’re safely in the car. Some days I do feel myself getting sucked back into that black hole of despair which I was often in when James was younger. You just have to accept that this is life with ASD! There are ups and downs, highs and lows, doing OK! You just have to keep it in perspective.