Summer time is pretty sweet and laid-back around here. Ben and I fall into a routine of sleeping later, playing, the park, the DH Discovery Center, the zoo, feeding ducks, and splashing in the kiddie pool. We did do extra therapy this summer (two sessions of OT, one of ST, and one of PT each week), and we do keep a routine so that he won't get upset and feel distressed, but it is nothing like his school routine.
Ben's school routine this year consists of Daddy driving him to school, riding the bus at 1:30 to his daycare, and then one of us picking him up from daycare. Wednesdays include OT. He also attends just daycare for a week before school starts while I am at in-service. Getting back into the routine has always been difficult for him, even when he didn't have as many transitions as he does now, and the first few weeks had always required us to pry him off of the floor, kicking and screaming, and drag him out of the door each morning, only to have to leave him at school or daycare while he sobbed, screamed, and took off his shoes. After a few weeks, he calmed down at home but then would still have the fit at school. It was painful at best, and we all dreaded Ben's morning transition.
But this year has been different! Thank goodness! He handled the first week of daycare like a champ, no fits and no problems! He was clingy with his dad the first day of school, but handled it like a champ as well. We are now officially three weeks into school, and mornings have been very smooth, except for an occasional clothes issue. I never imagined it could go this well.
Was it magic? Did I find a magical fairy wand to wave at Ben to make mornings better for him? Unfortunately, no. If I had a magical wand, everyone would know because of all of the frogs suddenly hopping around. We did, however, find some tools and tricks of the trade that have made school and morning transitions much easier for Ben.
After Ben was diagnosed through the school district (after our original private diagnosis), they enrolled us in their Parent In-Home Training program, and we were blessed with visits from a wonderful PPCD teacher, Ms. D, who introduced us to social stories. Social stories are little home-made books that show Ben doing something, one step at a time. Each page will have a picture taken of Ben doing one step of a process that is described in a single sentence. They can be spiral bound or put together with rings from an office supply store. We have separate ones for pottying, hand-washing, getting dressed, picking up toys, going to school, going to daycare, eating in the cafeteria, etc.
Want to know a secret? At first, I thought this sweet lady was crazy. I could not see how this was going to help my son. Despite the fact than Ben loves books, I just could not buy into the idea that he needed a book to show him how to potty or go to the cafeteria. We had books about pottying, after all. "The Potty Train", "The Potty Book for Boys", "Potty Time", etc, and they had not done a bit of good, so I certainly did not believe these little construction paper photo books were going to make a bit of difference for Ben.
Until they did. Because they really, really did. Being able to see himself doing the scary and/or confusing process step by step has made a world of difference for him. His self-help is gradually improving, and it has helped him with going back to school and daycare and falling back into that routine.
Another tool we are using (that I was also skeptical about) are picture schedules. Ben's teacher uses them at school to help the students negotiate their routines and to teach them how to transition from one center and activity to another. Our picture schedule at home consists of a piece of laminated card stock with self-stick Velcro on it. Picture symbols representing pieces of Ben's day have pieces of opposite Velcro so they can be easily put on and removed from the schedule. We have generic symbols for pottying, dressing, eating, a school bus, picking up toys, etc, but we also have little photographs of me, his dad, my parents, school, daycare, our vehicles, and his therapy clinic. Each evening, Ben and I sit down together and arrange his picture schedule for the following day, and then we go over it together the next morning. He also likes to look at it with his dad when he comes to take him to school. It's not a magic wand, but it does help him understand and deal with the parts of his day better than I ever imagined it would.
We also visited his daycare a week before he returned to meet his new teacher and see his new classroom, and also to take pictures for a social story. And we attended the meet and greet at his school to visit his teacher (he will have wonderful Mrs. S. again just like last year when he began this school in January). Mrs. S had readied his cubby and desk so that he could see them. Last May, she had also sent home a social story about his new, longer school day and the additional situations of lunch in the cafeteria and the routine that will follow, and she really deserves a great deal of credit for how well Ben handles school now. I believe her classroom is a much safer and more comfortable environment for him than his old classroom at his former school, and I do believe that is part of the reason he does not fight it or dread it so much. We are really fortunate to have her as Ben's PPCD teacher.
I also involved Ben in choosing his backpack, lunchbox, and school supplies, and we had daily conversations about returning to school, as well as reading children's books about going to school (Berenstain Bears, Curious George, "The Kissing Hand", and a new Skippyjon Jones story "Class Action") and, of course, the helpful social stories.
I am very proud of Ben and the growth he is showing this year, and I am sooooooo happy that he is no longer so upset by school that he needs to fight against going. I am learning to try tools before being skeptical of them, because you just never know what will help your child until you try it. But if you see a magic wand lying around somewhere, let me know. Ya know, just in case someone needs to be turned into a frog.