Do you see what I see?

Every parent has a uniquely 'different' and equally valid perspective on autism.

Do you see what I see?

In writing this blog, I hope to be able to share some of my experiences as a parent of a daughter with autism. I hope that my story resonates with some readers, provokes discussion and serves to build a greater capacity within our communities to accept, understand and embrace persons with autism for all they have to offer us .............and they have much to offer us, in my opinion.

"A Father's Perspective on Autism," will be my voice for exploring my experiences and those of my family; which are related to our ongoing journey with autism. Please join me in this journey and share your voice with me as well.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Preparing your child and yourself for school entry

There are many things to consider when preparing your child and yourself as nervous parents to let go of the tethers and see you child go off to school for the first time. You will have many questions including: is my child ready to go to school?

The reality is that you do have a few choices to make. In Nova Scotia, Canada, children are eligible to enter grade primary provided they turn 5 before December 31st of the year they start school in September. In some cases, that means kids can start school before they are even 5 years of age. For kids on the autism spectrum, whose emotional and developmental ages are often lagging their chronological age, the decision to start school at this point may be too soon in my opimion if your family has other options. You can kep them at home for another year, which has benefits if their are other siblings to play with or you can look at recognized preschool programs in your area. Each family needs to make the decision  based on their resources and other factors.

Alternatively, you can choose to keep your child out of school another year. I believe that you can keep them out of school until they turn almost 6, as long as they start  school in September of the year they turn 6 years old; or you can explore home schooling options. It is best to clarify the policy with the school board in your area. The later option of home schooling is too complex to discuss in this post and; in my opinion, has drawbacks for most kids with autism, who need regular peer contact to develop their necessary social skills and have access to specialists the school sytem can provide.

In the case of our daughter, spending an extra year in daycare  was exactly what we chose to do for many reaasons. By keeping our daughter out of school until she was 5 and 3/4 years of age, she was given the extra year to mature emotionally and more fully develop the social, language and life skils she needed to more closely catch up to her peer group entering grade primary that year.

Furthermore, many programs offered by the Early Intervention Organizations, Mental Health Services and The Nova Scotia Hearing and Speech Clinics in the province of Nova Scotia offer targeted,  home-based services specifically designed for preschoolers with autism. These services will end from Early Intervention and The Nova Scotia Hearing and Speech Clinics when the child goes to school; and services from the Mental Health Clinics become, generally, more clinic-based and less home-based in nature after the child enters school. Therefore, it might be beneficial to keep your child out of school until the last moment to take advantage of these excellent programs more fully.

Another consideration, in lieu off entering school at the earliest opportunity is the availability of many excellent full -time or part-time preschool, nursery and daycare programs that focus on helping kids build the necessary play, social, problem solving, pre-academic and life skills they need before entering school.

Here, they can have a 'dry run' at school:  following routines, building greater independence, learning to communicate, take more care of themselves and play with other kids. Many of these skills are lagging in kids with autism; and for our daughter,  she blossomed  'away from home', learning to cooperate with her peers , follow the directions of someone other than a parent, broaden her eating choices, learn to build her play skills and she had a lot of fun in an active environment at the Small World Learning Ceentre in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. Her time at preschool and daycare also offered more time to identify the areas she still would need help with when she entered school. School staff were able to come and observe her at school before she started and this helped them better prepare a plan for her to succeed in grade primary.

Overall, holding her back one year and sending her to daycare for that year was the best decision we could have made to best prepare her for entering grade primary. At the preschool and daycare environments she was able to develop skills through a combination of formal teaching by her teachers and through peer modelelling by her peers, especialy the older ones, as they practiced different skills and tried new things.

The cost of these programs, while not cheap, is affordable; and there are subsidy programs available, so discuss this option with the directors of the centres in your area.

Even if you have registered your child for school already, this does not prevent you from deciding during the summer that he or she is not ready to go to school yet.

The question of whether you are ready to let them go is another story. It is often more easy for the kids to separate from the parents than for the parents to separate from the kids. That's okay. It is a normal feeling to have nervous feelings about entrusting the welfare of your children to others. The experienced and caring preschool, daycare and then primary/kindergarten teachers are very used to helping parents and kids make tghis transition. as a parent it takes a bit of a leap of, take the leap and both of you will be okay in the long run.