Monkey Boy is in the Reception class in a small village school (one class intake of 20 kids per year). He started part time but went full time in mid October. He has a couple of friends and the class teacher is very positive about how he's settled in, how he's popular, relates nicely to adults, is making the kind of progress they want to see, etc. We have briefed her, the Head and the SENCO on his early life and passed on the OT's report and Family Futures report, so they are aware of his issues - though they don't see any of them (yet).
The he thing is, MB has always told us he doesn't like school, and has told us 'it's too crowded'. He's not very articulate, particularly when talking about his feelings, so it's difficult to get to the bottom of why he doesn't like it. Just before half term he started getting more negative about going to school and for the last week or so it's been a real battle getting him out of the door to school, and then out of the car, once there.
Keeping him home from school isn't an option, as he needs one-to-one care, and Mouse hasn't started at nursery yet, and DH needs to work.
So, what advice can you give?
(We have a clear morning routine, so he knows what he's doing. We include some sensory activities, to try to help him regulate his system and we give him one-to-one attention).
Yes, DH almost always takes him because he is so much more difficult with me, but it's not always possible. He's met at the door by his class teacher.
It might be too crowded for him. He's hypervigilant, so more than just a few people is too many for him. I'm not sure what we can do about that. He's been put at the front of the lunch queue and given a 'job' to do (monitor), but I'm not sure how we can make break time more reasonable for him.
Could it be arranged for you to take him into school ten minutes after the other children and that he is met at the front door of the school by an LSA? This worked for a while for us as it meant the other children were already settled, we weren't walking in through all the noise/chaos of other parents and children and they were far less likely to refuse to go in if there was a person waiting specifically for them (especially as the lovely LSA used to come out to the car if she could see we had arrived but not made it out of the car!
Another thing that helped us was either the LSA at the door holding a game in her hand ready to play with them - so they knew exactly what they were going in to do - or for the boys themselves to take in a simple game or activity from home each day to share with the LSA. Mine had real difficulty walking into a classroom in the morning without knowing what they would be doing/what they were walking into.
Break times were a big issue but something that worked a little was them coming in from play a few minutes early for another little snack and a calming story with an LSA - to try and help them regulate a little before the others came in. It didn't stop the manic behaviour at play times but did give them a fighting chance of managing the next lesson.
Maybe having a small crunchy or chewy snack to help him get out of the door and then through the school doors?
Does he have an EHC plan yet? If not, I'd start the process as it sounds as if he is going to need a high level of support.
Leo, some lovely ideas. We're meeting the SENCO and class teacher next week, so we'll see what we can do to make drop off and pick up easier. The Reception class has a back door leading onto a little 'Reception only' playground, so he already has a pretty quiet drop off and pick up. I think your point about not knowing what is going to happen first thing might be an issue. I'll talk that with them next week.
We already give MB a 'car snack' on the way to and from school. Usually crunchy and chewy (eg rice crackers and dried apricots or almonds and dried figs. What snacks have worked for your kids?
Yes, we're on track for an EHCP. We have to have 3 terms with a School Based Plan first though.
I think Year 1 will be a whole lot harder for him, and therefore us.....
In some ways, for hyper vigilant children, Year 1 can be a positive change as there is more structure, less noise, less movement etc - which then makes for a calmer environment. The flipside of that though is that there is greater social and academic pressure - and it is often in Year 1 that schools begin to identify children who have until then presented with no apparent problems (despite parents often saying there are issues!)
Would a little post it note home from the teacher every afternoon be possible? A short message to indicate, 'This morning you are going to start off by having a story/playing in the sand/sharing time with Mrs....' This could be given to him when he gets up in the morning and almost be carried with him as he gets dressed, has breakfast, is in the car and then carried into school - so he can say 'I know I am doing...'? It would only take a teacher or LSA a moment to do each afternoon (and if he physically carried it into school the next morning then they would pretty much have to stick to what they said - therefore increasing his sense of predictability). If not this then perhaps the LSA meeting him could be prepped to give him a brief rundown of what's going on in the classroom that morning before he reaches the classroom door - 'We've got Mr.... teaching today, your friend Johnny is already in and he's playing with the dressing up stuff, there's a colouring activity on red table...'?
In your meeting with the school, if they offer for the class teacher to be the one meeting him each day, it may be worth politely asking for an LSA to be assigned for this instead as, even with the best of intentions, teachers are the ones who get distracted or pulled aside by other parents in the mornings.
Does he have a transitional object to take into school; something to remind him of you? Taking a photo book with captions into school may work - something he could share each morning for a few minutes to reassure him you still love him and will be back for him. At holiday times or weekends you could add a new picture to it. So many schools expect children to simply abandon their home life at the classroom door but children such as ours often need to mentally bring us into school with them and any prop that helps with that should be tried out.
It may be worth asking when the school plan to transition the Reception children to the main playground as some schools start this very early - and this can be completely overwhelming. Tsunami was kept in the Early Years playground right through Year 1 as well because this was the only way he could cope (and he still didn't manage that well - but it was better than the three weeks he was on the main playground!)
Carrots and breadsticks were favourites with my two - they preferred crunching to chewing. We also had a water bottle with a straw in the car for use before and after school as sucking hard through a straw is really calming for my two. The best ones I found were something I think called 'crazy straw'? It had a long straw wrapped around the outside of the bottle and was pretty hard work to drink from (but had to kept upright) and a Tommee Tippee one meant for toddlers - had a short solid mouthpiece sticking out from the top - that was very hard work.
I hope the meeting goes well and school listen and respond with some useful strategies - the other thing to possibly bear in mind is making it clear that any strategies are not going to be short term fixes but ways to start managing a long term issue and will probably need to continue for a very long time.
Have you thought about getting an O.T. assessment? They can give good advice about how to cope in stressful situations etc. Our 2 have been diagnosed by the O.T. with sensory integration problems which answered a lot of questions and explained a lot of their behaviours.
Thanks again. Some really useful and detailed suggestions. Thank you. I will talk them through with DH and also with the SENCO and class teacher.
Doubletrouble, yes, MB has been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder and is strongly sensory seeking. We'd guessed, but it's useful having it in writing. It's one of the reasons that I worry about the transition to year 1. In Reception he can meet a lot of his sensory needs through play, in a quiet Year 1 class room, his hypervigilant self will relax but his SPD self will go crazy (not to mention his executive functioning deficit and ODD selves!)