Today was the first day of Erik's new kinder. It is quite a different ballgame to the childcare he has been going to. Childcare did have a kinder program within it, but the environment was still rather chaotic and the activities haphazard. Childcare has done it's job in terms of allowing my son to grow accustomed to being around other children and has exposed him to various situations he might not otherwise be in. It has been good. But I feel that his potential in that place has hit a ceiling now. He needs something more structured... more intensive... more specific.
One of the ways I sought to address this was to go to a centre-based early intervention place. This was not possible, but we were offered a place in an Autism-specific playgroup. This has been fantastic for him. Absolutely brilliant. Through the course of the two terms were have been there, Erik has learned to sit for most of the group time, anticipate events, and has begun to get involved with some of the interpersonal activities. It has also been great for me to connect with other ASD parents too. The whole experience has simply been perfect for us.
Another way I sought to bring more structure into Erik's 'education' was to enrol him into a council funded kinder - a mainstream place with proper session times, etc. This was on the advice of my EI key worker. She observed that proper kinders (as opposed to long day care centres) tended to have a more structured program. The children tended to be engaged in specific activities, the environment was not as chaotic, learning and play were a little more intensive - which is just what I was looking for. When I inspected a few kindergartens while looking for the right one, I did indeed see what she meant. A much calmer environment, and much more engaged children. So I enrolled him.
And today was the first day. It was all looking good, and he seemed to like the place and has settled in very well. No anxiety. Mind you, we had two previous visits to the place while interviewing and arranging funding for him. Erik seems to have a great knack for remembering places, and this one was no exception. He remembered and was pleased to be there.
So why was I so nervous?
I had been shaking and stressing all morning about this. Not normally a panicky parent, I decided to face up to how I was feeling, and investigate the reasons why I was so anxious about this. I found:
1. I was concerned about him absconding. Very concerned in fact. While there are security and safety doors around the complex, the door to his actual room is not secure at all. It was open the entire time parents were dropping their children in, with no-one specifically looking out for my son. (Aide worker hadn't started yet). When it did close, it was easily pushed open with light pressure and no need to press the handle. My son is usually a quiet boy. No one would notice him missing. It bothered me alot.
I reminded myself that the staff are fully aware of this risk and that the aide worker was due to start shortly. I reminded myself that the complex itself is secure, so if he did leave the room, he shouldn't get out of the building unless an ignorant adult or older child allowed him through a door or didn't close one properly. But really, nobody should be letting an unaccompanied child through any door. Yet sometimes, people are silly. - See the mess I get myself into? I found it hard to leave him this time.
2. The differences between my son and normal kids is now glaringly obvious. Children of this age (4 - 5 yrs) are not oblivious to those differences either. The kids notice that Erik is different... they don't know how to deal with him. What if they are mean to him? What if they decide they don't like him? What if they bully him? My son is a gentle boy. He is a great danger to himself and other children, but is otherwise gentle and not aggressive. If another child was to hit, punch, kick, bite, whack - whatever - him, he could not defend himself. He would not know how. He could not even tell the teacher. And if they tease him verbally... well, it's easy to think he doesn't understand so it's ok. But actually, he takes in more than we realise.
I reminded myself that I cannot bubble wrap my boy, even if he is more vulnerable than most kids. I reminded myself that he needs to learn how to deal with situations like this anyway, as it is more than likely he will experience hostility and nastiness to some degree in the future. I reminded myself that the staff are aware and will not tolerate such behaviour - provided they notice it. I reminded myself the the staff attitudes will flow down to the children, so if the staff are kind, tolerant and accepting, the children will learn to be too. I reminded myself that God is watching over my son when I cannot, and even when I can.
Even working through all this rationally, I still wasn't able to shake the anxious feelings. I think maybe it is all just part of motherhood.
He did have a great day. Staff said he loved the swings, climbing on frames and going down the slide. He did not join the other children for mat time - I never expected him to - but he did stay close by at a table with a bead frame. When I picked him up, he smelled awful. Apparently he blessed them all with a big poo for his first day, and either leaked a bit or was not cleaned up properly. I don't know which. He loves his new kinder bag, and seems quite taken with the tag on it that has his photo. I love that he loves it, because I searched high and low for a bag that was "Erik" ... couldn't find one I liked. So I just bought this one seeing as it was cheap and seemed cute enough without being too big. The only other glitch I had with him was actually getting him from the car to kinder - he has developed a certain behaviour recently that has made some transitions very stressful (More about that in another post hopefully). But we managed, and overall, it was a good day.
So our weekly routine now goes: Monday - Autism playgroup; Tuesday - Therapy; Wednesday - Kinder; Thursday - Childcare; Friday - Kinder. It will be a full-on year for him (and me!) but I am hoping to see alot of new and wonderful developments in it.