After 2 years of searching and worrying, our quest to find a school for Tommy is finally over.
The perfect solution was staring us in the face the whole time.
From September (providing there are no hiccups with the paperwork) Tommy will be going to the same school as Jude!!
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how disappointing our visit to another local school had been.
We were made to feel that the school did not want a child like Tommy attending there, and there would be no assistance to help him fit in. This, despite being recommended to see the school by professionals who do know Tommy, and the school never having set eyes on him before, or read anything about him.
I’m 100% convinced they were put off as soon as I mentioned the words ‘non-verbal.’ From that point on the challenge seemed to be one they didn’t want to take on, despite being a special needs school.
When I left that school I left angry, frustrated, and actually hurt that they would feel that way about my son. Tommy has his challenges, but he is also bright, inquisitive, and capable of making huge amounts of progress with the right support.
It felt like we’d just wasted the last few months, and that we’d never find the right school for Tommy.
Making that decision for someone with autism, who is non-verbal, and has limited communication skills right now is scary. Every time you explain something to him there’s no real way of knowing how much he understands. The thought of dropping him off to school and just being left there, unaware of why or what’s going on, makes your decision about what is the right setting, even harder.
Although we know Jude’s school inside out there has alway been something holding us back from committing to that choice. For me, I think it was because I had always viewed it in relation to Jude’s needs. They have always been so caring and supportive towards us and Jude, and I’m so happy that we found this school for him. But because I’ve always seen Tommy and Jude as so different I guess I just felt that a different setting would be right for Tommy. When we decided to defer Tommy for a year I think I imagined by the end of it he would be ready to go to a mainstream environment.
After going to see more schools at the end of last year, it became clear that this wasn’t the case. So then we looked at Moderate Learning Disability Schools that either didn’t take anyone before they were 7, or made it very clear that Tommy wasn’t right for them!
As a last resort, I arranged another visit to look at Jude’s school for Tommy. To try to help us make that final decision the school arranged for Tommy to spend an hour in class 1 whilst we watched on and had a chance to talk to the teachers at the same time.
So, last Thursday, we took Tommy in. I tried to explain to him what would be happening, and where we were going, but it’s difficult to know how much he understood. When we arrived at the reception area he seemed keen enough to
I tried to explain to him what would be happening, and where we were going, but it’s difficult to know how much he understood. When we arrived at the reception area he seemed keen enough to
When we arrived at the reception area he seemed keen enough to explore and ran off down the corridor as if he was off to find his own classroom.
I dragged him back to the waiting area and sat down to wait for the deputy head to collect us.
It’s the little things that make the difference…..
Whilst we sat there 3 or 4 different staff passed by, all smiling and saying hello to Tommy, excited about a possible new arrival. When Tommy was bouncing around whilst we waited (keeping still is not a skill he has mastered yet) there was no awkwardness from anyone who passed, no attempt to rush by and get on with their day. Instead, Tommy was made to feel welcome by everyone.
Once the Deputy Head arrived she got down to Tommy’s level, introduced herself, and took him by the hand to lead him off to class, talking to him the whole way.
As we reached outside the excitement became too much, and Tommy pulled on her hand and tried to run across the playground. Off she ran with him, joining him rather than forcing him to stop.
We entered class 1 and all of the staff came over to say hello, welcoming us warmly.
They were in the middle of various activities with the 8 children in the class, but this didn’t matter. Unlike in some other schools, we weren’t made to feel like we were imposing for a second.
Tommy explored the different work-stations, checking to see what was going on at each, before spinning off excitedly. The teachers let him settle in, and took a few minutes to see what he would gravitate to. Once he was comfortable they tried to involve him in the activities, using different senses, and a chance to see how much he would communicate with them.
Watching him be completely unphased by the other children was great to see. Jude has always struggled around his peers, whereas Tommy was straight in there, involved from the off.
Tommy spent some time at each work station taking part in the activities they were carrying out. He then sat down for snack time (with a few prompts he sat still for 10 minutes, quite a feat), spent some time in their sensory room, before being led out to the playground, hand in hand with a cute little girl who had clearly taken a shine to him.
To see him follow instructions, hold the girls hand and happily be directed around the classroom brought a lump to my throat. I’d never imagined he could be this comfortable in a classroom straight away
The hour flew by. The visit had been a total success, in no small part because the staff were prepared and happy for us to be there. We were an important part of their day, not just another visitor disrupting their busy day.
I should have known.
Stepping back into that classroom reminded me of when we came to visit the school when looking for Jude. On our second visit, the teacher told us she had moved her timetable around that day to show us the class working on numeracy, as the first time we came to visit we’d seen them working on language…….
Why had we been dragging our feet all this time when the ideal school was there staring us in the face?
A school and staff that care so deeply about the children and their parents.
As we walked back through the school we passed the door of Jude’s classroom and peered in to see what he was up to.
The teachers came running out, desperate to catch a glimpse of Jude’s brother. Tommy gave them the biggest smile, then ran off down the corridor, straight into the hall where a music lesson was going on. A teacher sitting at a piano, with the class in a semi-circle around him, was interrupted by Tommy bursting in and hammering away at the keys.
Smiles all round, no awkwardness, no rigidity, just taking him by the hand and leading him out of the room, back to us.
As we left, even the reception staff came out of their office to say hello to him.
I found the visit overwhelming and had to fight back tears for most of it, happy tears.
Tears at seeing Tommy comfortable in this strange environment, inquisitive, smiling, free to express himself without judgment.
Tears at seeing the staff accepting him fully, wanting to get to know him, focusing on what he likes rather than what he cannot do yet.
Tears at knowing that if Tommy goes to this school they will do everything they can for him, love him and find a way to work with him in the way he responds to best. As a parent what else could I ask for?
It’s been a long, stressful process over the last 2 years, but I am so happy with the decision we’ve made. Our final visit took away any shred of doubt I had about Tommy going there, and for that, I can’t thank the teachers enough. They made no extra allowances for us, they just did what they do on a daily basis, and that is why the school is so right for Tommy.