Ever since he started Prep, James has had a tough time doing full days at school every day of the week. From Prep to Year 2 he would have on average 2-3 short days a week, coming home at the end of lunch time (around 1:30pm). Without the early marks, we would notice a significant increase in his separation anxiety in the mornings, a significant decrease in his engagement at school and a significant increase in meltdowns after school.
This year he is in Year 3 and he has managed in Term 1 quite well with 1-2 early days per week, depending on the week. Next term we are going to trial doing full days. His teacher now knows him well and understands his limits. I know that she will notify me if he’s really not managing and I’ll just collect him early. But I do think he’s ready to try – mostly because he’s really beginning to show his ability to self regulate. This is my favourite example….
I received a phone call from the school administration staff just prior to lunch time one day. They are the loveliest women and James has a great relationship with them. The kind lady said to me, “Libby, I’m sorry to bother you but James has packed up all his gear, and he’s waiting down here in the office for you. He is insistent that he is going home. We have offered him alternatives as distractions such as visiting another classroom or going to find a friend with him but every time his answer is a definite no!”
I must admit I was rather confronted by this because by and large James is actually a very compliant child. I expressed this to the administration staff member and she replied, “Oh no! He’s not been rude at all. In fact, he has been really polite. He just keeps saying, “No thanks … I need to go home with mum … but thanks for asking!” Every time they attempted a new way to distract him he simply replied the same way, “No thanks … I need to go home with Mum … but thanks for asking!”
This was a reply that we taught to him when he was younger to divert meltdowns especially when visiting others. Instead of screaming ‘no’ and falling apart, we asked that if he really had an issue with something that he simply say, ‘No thanks, but thanks for asking.” However, he then generalised this strategy to every situation. “James, please go and get in the bath!” “Oh … no thanks Mum … but thanks for asking!” Hahaha! Frustrating … and it has required explanation … but it still pops up quite regularly.
When I turned up to collect him that day he burst into tears and clung onto me. By the time we got to the car he was sobbing,
J: “Mum, just take me to jail! I did the wrong thing! I tried really hard to survive the day but I just couldn’t do it!”
M: “It’s OK, love. Did you try some of your other strategies?”
J: “Yes! I went to the learning support room and did some jumping and other exercises. That didn’t work. Then I tried some down time with my iPad but that didn’t work either. Even my body scan (a psychologist taught technique) didn’t work. My engine was still wrong (from the Alert Program – How does your engine run?” I was just so tired and worried, mum.”
Receiving this extra information from him was very important. Initially I was cross with him because I thought that he had more or less simply demanded to be picked up. But hearing the complete story, it’s clear that despite trying every strategy he’d ever been taught, he still wasn’t coping which is why he asked the school to call me. This was his attempt at self regulating! He recognised that he’d exhausted all strategies bar this one and that he did genuinely need to ‘get out of there’! This was actually a great big achievement! So my response was :
M: “James, I am hearing you say that today was hard. I’m hearing you say that you used all your strategies but it still didn’t help you out. I am not cross with you. I am actually proud of you for knowing that you were at your limit. I’m also proud of you for speaking nicely to the office ladies and not falling apart by crying or having a meltdown. You did really well. I wonder though how we might do this in a slightly better way next time?”
J: “I’m not too sure about that, Mum.”
M: “I think maybe you should have talked to your teacher first. She could have helped you. She could have called Mum. It’s not your decision to make alone about whether or not you are going home. If this happens again some day, please talk to your teacher first. OK?”
J: “Sounds like a plan, Mum!”
Sometimes we fail to see the achievements due to the circumstances. We are so blessed that James is a part of such a caring and supportive school community. They truly are wonderful with him and they have a great understanding of him. Everything I read talks about anxiety management as being the key to ensuring a great long term prognosis for those on the spectrum. Things are looking promising … and every day I am so incredibly grateful for that 😀