It’s been a while since I posted anything and we have so much to report from last year that it is hard to know where to begin. Georgia recently started Grade 1 and so far seems to be enjoying her new class. She has a new teacher and two new aides, with her main aide Zoe continuing with her. Last year was a bit of a rollercoaster. The first term of prep was a bit hard for Georgia as she met many new faces and the challenges of different rooms and longer days meant she was a bit overwhelmed at first. In the beginning of the year, prep is just like kinder, lots of play based activities and freedom to explore and investigate. It is also great for getting to know your classmates and the different teachers and staff of the school. The classroom is also visually very busy, which I believe was a bit of sensory overload. Consequently, towards the middle and end of term 1 Georgia was showing tiredness and because I had left (I stayed with her for the first few weeks to help the aides learn about Georgia’s needs) her behaviour started to go downhill.
Second term was much better, Georgia seemed to settle down into school routine, and the changes over the days did not seem to bother her as much. All in all, I was thinking that school life was going to go well. Mid year break came and Georgia became quite sick over the holidays (only a cold, but it seemed to linger so long, in fact when she was due to go back to school she was so ill I kept her home for the first week). It was during this third team that I started to worry that perhaps school life was going to present some challenges for her that we hadn’t anticipated.
All through her life, Georgia has had trouble socialising. We have always worried that she wasn’t particularly interested in other people. It is part of the reason that we had a sibling for her, so that she wouldn’t become unnecessarily ego-centric. We were expecting by the third term that she would be seeking a few friends, interested in saying hello and goodbye at least. There were quite a few girls from her class that were friendly with her, wanting to know all about the equipment that she brought to class and wanting to be with her at recess and lunchtime. Unfortunately, she was still pushing people away from her if they got to close to her chair, and was only interested in laying down in the library with a story. We understand that Georgia will probably need help with making friends anyway, but it will only happen if she is willing to try it. So far, school has not made it more desirable for her, she still prefers her own company.
By the end of third term, Georgia was having tantrums in class and her behaviour with her aides was deteriorating to the point that they were becoming stressed. We know that for Georgia, communication is the key to her feeling confident. Because she uses a PODD book with partner assistance to communicate she needs to feel that the partner understands her. This is a relatively easy task for us as her parents, as we obviously can read her gestures and facial expressions even before she uses the book. But for her aides at school, this is a much harder proposition. Zoe was becoming increasing adept at using Georgia’s book, and it was obvious that Georgia was quite comfortable with her, but the other two aides had a harder time.
I started to worry that because she needs so much sensory input and output to concentrate a mainstream environment might not be the best option. The school is just not equipped with the facilities and equipment on hand for her. Because of this, and because her socialisation with her classmates was not improving, we started to look at other options for schooling. I also worried that perhaps she had Autism Spectrum Disorder.
At first we looked at a few specialist schools, one in Mount Evelyn and one in Croydon. Both facilities were ok, Mt Evelyn only 10 minutes away. There were pros and cons for both schools, but the main things I found were that both schools had a swimming pool, a separate physical therapy room and facilities especially set up to cater for all sensory needs.
Obviously for us to move Georgia out of her school to a specialist environment (even part-time) we would need to have her communication needs met. Mount Evelyn was doing some fabulous work with their communication system, but it was still behind the programs that we use from CPEC.
With a PODD book and consequently a Dynavox or voice-output communication device, Georgia has the ability to form sentences and initiate a conversation. Even though she is not yet at the stage where she can do it, she still has the right tools when she is able to.
At both Croydon and Mount Evelyn, the communication was still choice based. For example the children are given a choice of two options, then they are expected to choose one. This is fine if they are happy with the two options. But what if they aren’t?
I could see that at both schools Georgia would like some aspects of going to school. The classes were much smaller (only around 8 children in each class) and the curriculum seemed to be secondary to the sensory and physical needs of each child. Both schools required an IQ level of below 70. Georgia has never been able to be tested because of her complex communication needs, but I know that she has intelligence. I worried that she would not learn anything at these schools, just love going for a swim and playing on the sandpit.
In the end, we decided that we would keep her at her mainstream school for at least the next 6 months and with a change of aides, and a new teacher, perhaps she would improve.
To be honest so far, nothing has changed. We aren’t having the tantrums, true, but she still isn’t seeking friends yet. I still have my doubts, but I am willing to take the professionals advice that we need to give it time. I am still investigating the Autism diagnosis, and there seems to be some conjecture with her therapists that it may well just be sensory integration.
I’ll keep you posted.