On Monday we had a meeting with the pre-school that River will be starting in September. Present were the pre-school's SENco (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator), the lovely educational psychologist, and the Area SENco. We were in a little side room, and immediately River got upset. I'd brought a couple of cake boards with me for him to spin, but he was really anxious and kept standing on me, climbing up me, pulling my hair, crying. So Tim took him outside to play on the grass.
We discussed what River main interests are, his passions, and then moved onto River's main issues are, what I think he's going to struggle with, and finally a list of actions to be put in place by September so that River can settle into pre-school as comfortably as possible.
It's funny, I often find that when people first meet River & I, they expect me to be a bit clueless (Tim thinks it's because I look very young, & maybe it's because I'm a first time mum, or maybe I just look ditzy!!) so I really like it when I start talking about River & people acknowledge that actually I know him very, very well & have put a lot of time & effort into knowing him, his strengths & his weaknesses and we've put a lot in place to help overcome his obstacles.
The main outcomes of the meeting are that River will have one-to-one support, a really gradual settling-in period, the nursery will get some extra funding for him, he is to have a quiet area set aside with objects to spin, and it will be reviewed in October.
This week we've been off on our hols to Cornwall. We've been sooo looking forward to having a break, switching off and enjoying some quality family time. River doesn't handle change very well, however, so we put a lot of things in place to help the transition. For two days prior to the holiday, we set up the travel cot in his room for him to sleep in at naps & night time so he could get used to it. We packed his favourite toys, books, DVDs and CDs, blackout blind and his favourite foods and planned the two hour drive to coincide with his nap.
When we arrived at the chalet, he was a bit clingy but I stuck his Thomas DVD on & he was soon happy to explore his new surroundings with something familiar in the background. Thankfully River slept very well for naps and overnight throughout the holiday. We stuck to his usual timings and he coped brilliantly.
We planned a few activities but knew we'd have to be flexible. We went to Crealy Adventure Park- lots of farmyard animals. River wasn't remotely interested in any animals- I picked him up and put his face a few inches from a couple of massive horses at one point, and he was looking from side to side as if they were invisible- it might as well have been a brick wall. What he really loved was running after the park maintenance van! He also had great fun just walking along holding hands, as there was music being played throughout the park- and he loves music! Overall, it was much more successful than anticipated!
That afternoon, we went to the beach. It was absolutely beautiful & the water was calm and shallow. I was hoping that River would enjoying playing in the sand, but after a couple of steps he was trying to climb up me and crying, clearly not liking the feel of it on his feet. We were really excited about taking River paddling, but it didn't really go as planned. He let the water run over his feet a couple of times, looking rather confused, before crying and putting his arms up to be picked up. He clung on really tightly as we made our way back to the soft sand, and cried some more when I attempted to stand him on it. The only thing that would stop him crying was sitting on my lap eating slices of apple. Once the apple was gone, he continued to cry until we reached the car. Poor wee thing. It was a really sad moment for Tim & I, as there were several other babies & young children all playing in the sand etc & we desperately wanted River to enjoy it too, but it just caused him real sensory overload.
The next day, we went swimming in the indoor pool. We took one of River's rubber ducks that he likes to chew. I was a bit worried that he'd scream the whole time but he coped really well! There were only about 5 other people which helped, and we had the separate toddler pool to ourselves. I wouldn't say he enjoyed it though- he 'tolerated' it. He didn't smile at all or make a sound, just clung onto us, chewed his rubber duck & stared into space. Totally zoned out. Was a shame it wasn't enjoyable but great that he was distressed by it!
The next day, we went to Newquay aquarium. We went last year, when he was 10 months, and he was in awe- he's so visually stimulated & all the pretty colours and fish darting about captivated him at the time. We were sure he'd feel the same about it this year so were a bit gutted when he didn't want to look at any of it, and just cried and wanted to leave. Think we managed about 20mins in all- and it wasn't cheap!
The aquarium is right by the beach, so we decided to have another go with River. Since he obviously didn't like the feeling of sand or sea on his feet, we decided to keep his shoes and socks on. He much preferred this! He was happy to hold my hand and walk across the beach. He then took an interest in the water and was even happy to paddle (with his shoes on!!) His shoes & socks obviously got soaked, but it meant that he got to experience the sea, and the feeling of having wet feet was more acceptable to him as his feet weren't in direct contact with the water. Fab!!
Something that we found quite draining was the repetitive noises that River was making. Whenever his Thomas DVD was on he would run up and down the room constantly, making this loud, deep, gutteral noise. Over, and over, and over again. I think it must have been linked to feeling anxious in a new environment though as he hasn't been doing it as much since we got home.
I have been trying to pick out River's favourite part of the holiday- trying to think of something 'normal'- and I honestly think his favourite part was chasing the maintenance van in the adventure park.
So overall, it was really lovely to have a break away, lovely to unwind a bit. BUT- everything is so much harder when you have a toddler with ASD. They just aren't interested in things other toddlers are. Things that you assume are universally enjoyed by kids- like the beach- can be a source of real distress. You can't plan 'nice activities'- as what is normally viewed as 'nice' isn't interesting. It is HARD WORK.