Franklin is now in his final term of Reception (sob!!) at his mainstream school and we are starting to plan the transition into Year 1, and all the changes that come with it.
I wrote this blog post shortly after Franklin’s first week at school and I think it will now be relevant to many other parents whose child is starting school in September, and also our transition into year 1.
First Week of School
Franklin has just finished his first full week in mainstream school. MAINSTREAM SCHOOL!!! There was a time I didn’t believe this would be possible, i was afraid to let myself.
He has coped astonishingly well and exceeded every expectation we had. We knew we were raising the bar, but we didn’t know he would vault it so quickly!
He has merrily sat on the carpet daily for storytime, joined in with many classroom activities, and even managed a full PE session, enjoyed it by all accounts! At the lunch table he has tucked into a few pieces of bread and butter – he’s never eaten bread at home (that hasn’t been incinerated first!) and he has devoured copious amounts of custard 😋
He is visibly excited walking through the school door every morning (after being carried to the door that is… a battle for another time) but what more could I have possibly hoped and dreamed for at the end of his first week?!
Franklin is the first non-verbal autistic child the school have ever had, probably many mainstream schools have ever had. All the months of preparation has been monumental in making the transition into school work so effectively. It didn’t happen by accident. Not. a. chance! The list of barriers was exhaustive, but we broke each and every one down… bit by bit.
Beginning in the February before Franklin started school in the September, here’s how we began to tackle it:
Transition book – school prepared a wonderfully helpful book for Franklin which included visuals of his classroom, lunch hall, outside play areas, cloakroom, his key teachers, etc which I have been able to show him every day over the summer. Having a 6 week break prior to starting school was always going to be a challenge, but this book helped to remind Franklin of school, to keep the visuals firmly in his mind.
Teacher visits to nursery – we arranged with school for his Reception Class Teacher and the Teaching Assistant to visit Franklin in his nursery regularly, leading up to his impending start (nursery is attached to the school so this helped – not to mention having two incredibly supportive and dedicated nursery teachers who were heavily involved in his transition). The school teacher visits were fundamental in helping Franklin establish a familiarity with his new teachers, in an environment he was very comfortable in.
Visits to Reception classroom – School kindly agreed for Franklin to go into the Reception classroom while the existing class were outside at break-times. He was able to acclimatise himself with the classroom; the layout, the colours and smells, all of which can overwhelm him in a new environment.
Using school toilet – New toilets are an obstacle that always unsettle Franklin, hence we made sure he had used the school toilet multiple times before he started and it became a necessity.
Reception drop off & pick up – routine is of utmost importance. A simple change in route can cause him major distress, tears, leading into meltdown territory. Prior to starting school I dropped him off and collected him from the Reception classroom door on multiple occasions.
School dinners – Franklin sat in the lunch hall a sprinkling of times, before the rest of the children arrived for lunch, and grazed (scarcely) at a school dinner. This enabled him to become accustomed with the school hall, the process of lunchtime and the layout of the school hall at lunchtime. (Food variety is and will possibly always be a battle with him, but having him calm and relaxed is the best starting point to build upon!)
Breaking in of the Uniform – Franklin was strutting around the house in his school uniform and PE kit all summer. He can occasionally become fixated on not wearing a particular item of clothing, especially when it’s new. The thought of first day of school being a catastrophe before we even left the house was too much to even contemplate!
Superb support – Franklin’s appointed one to one support teacher kindly visited him at our home over the summer months. This was incredibly helpful. She spent a couple of hours playing with Franklin, gaining his confidence and starting to build a bond. Also, prior to the 1st day of school on the Wednesday, Franklin went into school on the Monday and Tuesday for a few hours with his wonderful support teacher. With the other children not yet in school, it gave Franklin the opportunity to acclimatise himself in a calm environment before the big day.
About Me book – I made a booklet for school detailing essential information about Franklin. Certain characteristics, behaviours and movements he displays and why. How he self-regulates. How he needs something in each hand for comfort. His many food aversions. When and how to use his sensory vest. How to prepare him for transitions, etc, etc.
We are only a week in but I’m already sure we’ve made the right choice. In fact scrap that, I’m certain we have! The schools support has been unparalleled and Franklin has an outstanding team around him. I’m incredibly lucky to witness their passion and dedication on a daily basis, it is heartwarming. I know it’s early days and not wanting to tempt fate, but I feel like I can finally let that breath out. The one I’ve been holding in for at least the past 12 months.