Thursday, 27 September 2012

The New School Year: A Great Start!

After several stress-filled months, the new school year has begun. 

There was some anxiety on Micah's part and a lot for me!  The week before school started we met the teacher and a few of the new classmates in the new classroom.  That made things a little easier on the first day of school.

This year Micah has started to take the school bus for the first time and she is back in class for the first time in almost a year.
Day one: we were out on time for the school bus to pick her up at the house.  Since she is on the small special needs bus, it will pick her up at our driveway.  We waited and waited and finally, when the bus was 15 minutes overdue and the school bell was to ring in five minutes, I got her in the car and drove her to school.  Stressed already….

Not a good start for a child who was nervous about taking the school bus in the first place.  We went into the office because she was late and they said there were many buses that hadn't shown up or were very late.  Her teacher came up to the office to get her.  I discussed the problem with the secretary and she said it would be figured out by the end of the day.  I told them I would pick Micah up that day just to be sure.
It would be Micah's first full day in school since last December and she hadn't eaten lunch at school for a couple of years, so the entire routine was brand new for her.

When I went to pick Micah up at the end of the day, I checked in at the office and they said the bus was straightened out for the next day.  It was suggested she might want to try taking the bus home that night since it was there and I could meet her at home.  She reluctantly agreed and had her first school bus ride.
Micah had a great first day at school and was very happy in her new class.  There are a total of five students and three staff.  Micah is the only girl (of course!) the other four students are boys.  She is also the oldest in the class.  The staff consists of a Special Education teacher, a Child Youth Worker (CYW), and an Assistant for the Developmentally Handicapped (ADH).

Although Micah had a great first day she was completely overwhelmed, and at bedtime, the anxiety started to get bad.  She started telling us she didn't want to go to school.  She then asked if she could only go for half a day.  I started to worry that we would be back where we started-dealing with a child crippled by school anxiety.  However, I understood the value of giving her a gradual re-entry into school. I told Micah I would drive her the next day so we didn't have to worry about the bus and that I would pick her up at lunch so she could gradually get back into full days.  That made her feel better.
I explained to the teacher and the principal what we would be doing and how we would gradually get her up to a full day again and hopefully travelling on the bus also.  Happily, she did have another great day on Day 2.

I talked to Micah that night and we came up with a reward system to work on bus and full day problem.  Although there are very few kids on the bus (only about four or five), she finds it very noisy because those few are loud. 
Micah was also finally able to tell me that she was worried she would never see me again if she took the bus to school.  I had always taken her to school either walking, because it was so close, or driving to her private school, so we have never had this problem.  I suggested to her that Daddy could get her on the bus and I could go ahead and meet her at the school.  That way she would see me before she went into class and she would know that I had not disappeared.  She would also receive a reward for taking the bus.  I do not have to worry about whether she made it to school or not because the staff meet the kids from her class as they got off the bus and take them straight to their room.

After a few days, Micah was able to take the bus to school on her own.  Her bus is even coming on time now.
Now that she was taking the bus every morning, we had to start working on staying longer during the school day.  The whole school team is very supportive of Micah and her needs so if she can only go half days at first, they're okay with that.  After a few half days, we managed to get her to stay until lunch time, which at their school is 12:50.  She and her favorite CYW discussed many things including when Micah would come for full days because they really like seeing her.  A week-and-a-half after school started, Micah was ready to start full days.  She gave it a try and was happy to have art class in the afternoon.   She loves art.  She really enjoys being the only one in the room and having the art teacher to herself when the boys go for their integration time into other classes.
Micah is starting to feel very comfortable in the class because she is supported so well.  She has been able to ask the teacher for things that she has never done in the past, such as asking to listen to music and going to a different room if a child is having a meltdown.   She even asked to use the study corral all on her own (after she had asked me the night before to talk the teacher).

I had told her that she was doing so well that she could probably do it herself and she did.
There have been no behavioral problems at home other the normal kid stuff.  In her riding lesson, she did something she hasn't done for probably over a year.  She jumped.  She has been very fearful to do that and I think the new school has something to do with improving the anxiety (along with encouraging riding partners and coach).

At the end of the second week of school the librarian told Micah that there was a girl in another class who has Asperger’s.  Her mother was considering getting her an iPad like Micah's, and she said she would introduce them to each other.  The other girl also likes the same book series as Micah:  The Warriors.
We have just started the third week of school.  Micah takes the bus to and from school and stays the whole day!  We now have to work on tapering the rewards but the main thing is that she is going and she is very happy.  Yesterday, Monday, Micah got to meet the other girl with Asperger's and they are going to be starting a Warriors book club with the help of the librarian.  She's very excited and will hopefully now have a friend.

Micah is still not comfortable to go outside at recess and lunch time because she has no friends.  The teachers are okay with her being in the class and one is very interested in her iPad and the things she can do with it.
Things are going great so far and I really hope this year stays this way. 

The IEP is the next thing to come.  We have already done the French exemption paperwork so we don't have to worry about that.  We do have to start thinking about which class to integrate her into first as right now she is not integrated at all.  She is not comfortable with that yet and the staff is accommodating her.
We're very happy that after all this time and work, we made the right decision on this new class and school.   The staff is really accommodating and relaxed and they really, really want to help her to succeed.

Micah is much happier than at either of her previous schools. 
It is now week three and a sixth and final student has been added to the class.  Micah received a birthday party invitation from him!  This hasn’t happened in years.  She does not usually get invited to parties.  She was at her last school for two years and no birthday invites.  She is very happy now.

The change from a Catholic system to a community classroom in the public system was scary and caused a lot of anxiety in our household.  However, we would not change our minds on this decision.  We need to do what is best for Micah and no one else.  Some people believe only in mainstreaming because that will prepare the child for the ‘real world’.  Not all children can handle mainstreaming and even as adults will need some accommodation in their jobs or activities.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Everyone, including neurotypical (non-autistic) people, has different needs.  

First day of school outfit!