I can’t tell you the tears, both his and mine, that have ensued because of new schools.
This is my darling Niko. He has Williams Syndrome, and had been shuffled from school to school to school until he ended up in an autism classroom with the BEST teacher ever. She loved him and he thrived with her for three years. Now it’s time to send him to middle school. Yikes!
There are a few things I learned during all of these transitions, and if any of these tips can help you, you’re welcome to them, my friend. Anything to make it easier, yes?
1. Familiarize your child with the school.
If you can go and wander around, do so. In Vegas everything is chained up and no wandering is permitted, so we looked his school up online and familiarized ourselves that way. Today is the Meet and Greet, so we’re going to meet his teacher and see the school in person. We already picked out special landmarks (the main doors, the mascot, etc) so he can identify them when we get there.
2. The teaching staff will take their cues from you.
I wish I had figured this out earlier. I was always so overwhelmed by Niko’s explosive behavior. He would squawk and bang his head against walls. He’d also headbutt and bloody my nose. He’s a very sweet child, but would become anxious rapidly, and his first teacher treated him horribly.Because of this, he freaked out whenever he was at school. I was terrified that he’d be unloved and abused again, and would often introduce him with that fear in my eyes and voice.
I was teaching the staff to be wary of my son. I didn’t mean to, but I was so busy warning them about his triggers that they didn’t have a chance to see what a beautiful, affectionate boy he is. So I changed my approach.
“This is Niko. He loves washers and dryers. He struggles with handwriting but types beautifully. He loves music and if you give him a chance, he’ll love you.”
This is how I introduce him now. Yes, we can discuss triggers and negative behavior and all of these other important things. But first off, I introduce them to my son. And he will bring joy to their lives. Joy, not fear.
3. Familiarize staff with your child and their diagnosis.
I use a scrapbook that he takes with him on the first day. It’s simply made out of paper and copied pictures. That way the teacher can keep it all year if he or she chooses. The scrapbook is a fun, positive way to let them know about Niko’s like and dislikes. This is where I discuss his personal triggers. “Niko is terrified of loud noises. He has OCD and will repeat things incessantly. He thrives on a schedule and repeating it to him will calm him.”
I also give them a folder on Williams Syndrome so they’re aware of the condition. Most haven’t heard of it. I take care not to overwhelm them with lengthy, difficult information, but give them a general overview so they’re not paddling in the dark.
4. Set your child up to succeed.
What do they personally need? Niko has difficultly with buttons, latches, and anything with fine motor skills. Doing the hook and eye on his school uniform shorts is nearly impossible for him. I bought him elastic-waist uniform shorts so he can pull them up and down easily without help. What can you, as a parent, do to help your child be as successful as possible? Pack a lunch with a certain cup that he or she can use without help? Have him wear only navy shirts because that’s the only school uniform color that doesn’t panic him? There’s pressure to have our children fit in. If everybody is wearing the red shirt, maybe we want them to wear the red shirt, as well. But if it doesn’t benefit our kiddos, then it isn’t worth worrying about. Make them comfortable.
5. Send in soothers.
What calms your child down when he or she is upset? Niko is soothed by movement, so we bought an inexpensive rocking banana chair and donated it to the classroom. (After asking permission, of course.) He also does well bouncing on an exercise ball. If he’s hysterical, wrapping him in a blanket and rocking him helps. He also has one specific music album, Sufjan Steven’s “Illinois” album that seems to reach him when nothing else will. We sent in a CD for the classroom CD player, and also loaded it on an iPod for him with earphones. Give your child’s teacher all the help and tools that you can.
6. Don’t assume the school has all of the information it needs.
If your child needs to take medicine at school, make sure everybody knows. Niko wears a harness on the school bus so he doesn’t wander around and get brought home by the police. Even though the harness is in all of his transportation paperwork, the bus driver never seems to have that information. When I talk to them before the first run, I make sure to tell them about the harness so they have the bus’ half of the harness installed. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Things get lost in the shuffle. Don’t feel that you’re being nagging or annoying. You’re just being a good parent or caregiver. :)
So those are six things that I’m doing to help Niko begin the terrifying world of Middle School. :P I’ll admit that I’m still a wreck, though. What tips and suggestions do you have? Please share. And best of luck this school year to you and your little one!