School Tranisition Tips and The Importance of a Good Team
Following up on Sabrina’s last post, we too are thinking all about school as MJ prepares to enter Kindergarten. This summer has been all about school prep and it’s been exhausting, although very much needed. We had our transition meeting with the school yesterday and it went much better than what had been presented to us in June. There was a change of administration over the summer and while her teacher did not change, the principal did and she has brought a very refreshing outlook on things that we were quite pleased with.
We all agree that MJ is not ready to enter school full time (8-1:45) from the get go, but back in June, previous administration had presented a plan that was had dates and hard schedules, but a wide open question mark of when she’d be attending full-time – maybe after Thanksgiving, maybe after Christmas. That seemed like a crazy long time to us and like she wasn’t going to be getting the help she needed. We had also been told that there wasn’t really a lot of plans for EA support for her at that time (since budgets and resources had not really been finalized at a district level). Yesterday, the news was like a breath of fresh air. While the new principal agreed there was some good elements in the plan, she felt it was not what would work best for MJ and asked our permission to throw it out the window. We cheered!
The new plan, still sees MJ starting part-time, both ‘staggered entry days’ (half the kindergarten class goes one day for two hours, the other half the next), and then spending two more days at two hours a day. We then all agreed we would make a call – on Sunday if necessary about what her schedule would look like for the following week and how many hours we felt she could handle and that it could even be a mix of some days at two hours, others at three or four. We agreed we would take our cues from MJ, since she tends to hold things in only to explode at home later (sometimes a full 24 hours later). We will see what her behaviours are like day by day and week by week and make calls accordingly with the hopes of getting her full-time as soon as possible, but at her pace. I am thrilled with this plan.
In addition, they confirmed the kindergarten class will have a dedicated EA (not necessarily for MJ only, and that’s ok, because she doesn’t need full-time support, she just needs extra help beyond a teacher who as much as I know will help, has 15-20 other kids to also teach).
Besides social stories, we’ve managed to do a few extra things this summer to prep her that I thought we’d share as tips for a successful transition to school:
We’ve visited the school several times and played on the playground so MJ could get familiar with the equipment, the outside noises and surrounding environment.
In the Spring, MJ’s teacher made a video tour of the school and introduced her to some of the teachers and showed her some of the rooms and places in the school. This has been very helpful for MJ and has given her a bit of confidence when we do visit the school and a sense of familiarity. We also are showing her videos of some of the kinds of activities they do in school (e,g. a gym class or music class), a tip I saw elsewhere online.
As we get closer to school time and teacher assignments are finalized, we’ve been working with her teacher to get pictures of familiar faces she will see and we’re putting them in her social stories and on boards around the house so she gets used to them.
Tours of the School
We’ve been fortunate that we have been able to arrange tours of the school and have her meet her principal ahead of time. We’ve even managed to work with her therapy team to have a few of her therapy sessions run at the school to get her even more familiar with things. Today part of the session includes us packing her lunch.
MJ has a lot of imaginary friends that she uses to help process information. We’ve seen an increase in the presence of these friends over the last few weeks and she spends a lot of time creating elaborate set ups and scenarios about what is happening with them and how she is helping them with different school problems. We are encouraging this role play and using it to have some very good conversations. For example, the other day, her friends were bullied at school and kicked and punched by mean kids for being different. We know she is playing out her fears this way, so we were able to have a good talk about how she could help her friends, without the focus being on how anxious she is.
Confirmation of her fears
Most importantly, we’re letting her know it’s ok to be worried and that not only were we worried when we were kids, but that so our most of the kids in her class probably. Worry is natural and it’s how we deal with it together that helps us overcome it.
As positive as I sound, I’m still kinda terrified and hope I don’t let it show and that the school transition will be as smooth and successful as it possibly can be. We are very lucky to have an amazing support staff at the school and the help of our autism team who will be attending school with her for the first few weeks to help transition, so all in all, we’re probably pretty far ahead of the game.