Tips for starting primary school with an ASD/SN child 

By | August 1, 2017

Yesterday I shared my tips for starting in secondary school, in this post, I’m re-visiting our experiences of D starting firstly in mainstream reception and then transferring to SN school.

These are our experiences and are designed to help, preparing for any child to start school can be a worry, when your child has SN, those worries can be magnified many times.

To give a little bit of background, D was in mainstream schooling from nursery (aged 3.5) to 3 months short of her 6th birthday – so a term and a half into year 1. 

D was diagnosed with autism at 4.5years and it then took a year to get her statemented, at the second attempt. That year between diagnosis and statement was one of the longest and most stressful of my life. 

I had the feeling constantly that D was a number, a commodity – not an individual and that the “panel” who would be deciding my child’s education viewed her as a cost, a budget figure.

D struggled in mainstream, a lot. She had 26 hours a week 1:1 support from the moment she started in Reception – so before her statement came through. Her 1:1 TA was a wonderful, empathetic lady and we worked very closely together to try and ensure D enjoyed her days at school.

Unfortunately she didn’t.. D was overwhelmed by the sizes of the classes, the noise, the bustle, the excitement. One of her anxieties is that of having people too close to her. So you can imagine, there were times when she was not in class, but doing separate work with her TA outside the classroom.

Because her TA funding did not cover break times and lunchtimes, D would spend these holding onto a playground assistants hand.

I found it very hard to fathom that my daughter – who could count to 50 by the time she was 3 years old and was recognising letters from 2 years old – was put onto the “slow learners” table on the times that she was able to be in the classroom. Due to her inability to read phonetically and her inability to form letters? Plus delayed social skills?

D was never able to go down to class assemblies or participate in school plays – again her anxieties took over.

As soon as we had her (second attempt at) statement through, I was pushing for a place at the local SN school, we had already viewed it and knew it was the best place for D – but of course, every child is different. A lady who had a downs boy in T’s class kept saying to me “stick with it, it’s D’s right to be there” but I knew it wasn’t for her.

So, I would say – if your child is starting “big” school soon:

*Establish a working relationship with your child’s 1:1, get basic ground rules as to what you expect from them and they from you

*Be prepared for meetings with the school to be emotional – no matter how trivial the subject matter may seem – I cried in every meeting! 

Which brings me on to:

*Write everything down in advance that you want to say, always have a notebook in your bag so that if you’re at the checkout, for example, you can write it down before you forget.

*Be flexible, the school will want your child to enjoy their day as much as you want them to.

So, that’s the prep, but what about the actual start day?  

There are so many things to think about, such as:

*Uniform. A uniform can present so many sensory issues with “scratchy” material, buttons and zips. If you have a daughter, you might be concerned about her wearing a dress, especially if she has a tendency to roll about the floor.

*Practise with your child zipping and unzipping, buttoning and un-buttoning. If zips prove too much, think about trousers/shorts with elasticated waists and for a girl, consider leggings under a school dress or pinafore or gym leggings (which D wears, they are thicker than usual leggings and aren’t see through at all, try Next online).

If a woolly cardigan or jumper isn’t a possibility, how about a plain sweatshirt in the school colours.

*Shoes, if your child can’t tie shoe laces, there are Velcro school shoe options, similarly gym plimsolls from Clarks. D wears Skechers go walk as these have no laces and are very comfy, almost trainer-like in a navy blue. 

*Lunchtime – this can be fraught with anxieties due to the amount of people in a school hall and the sensory issues. If you find that your child isn’t eating at lunchtime, suggest that they be allowed to either sit somewhere quieter with a TA or have them home for lunch if you live close enough.

T doesn’t eat lunch at all, which worried me at first, we compromise by him having a big breakfast (toast and cereal) and then his tea is ready as soon as he gets home. This option is easier than clearing out uneaten food from his school bag!

*At home time, make sure, if you collect your child that you’re always in more-or-less the same place, this gives them reassurance that you’re there and hopefully you’ll be greeted with a smile.

If your child travels by transport, stand in the same place every day so they see you as they descend the school bus.

 Make a big, huge smile when you see them and they see you, you’re their constant in their life and who they’ve been waiting to see

But

Both D and T tend to mask their emotions whilst they’re at school and it’s always very clear from their faces if they’re not happy. If this happens and there’s a meltdown when you collect your child, get down to their level and reassure them in a calm tone – ignore the stares and comments, I know it’s hard not to.

*If your child doesn’t eat much during the day, they’ll be hungry (hopefully) at home. Only when they’re feeling relaxed and calm, with a full tummy, might they open up a bit about their day. You might find that it can take a few days before they’ll say what was wrong previously, I guess it takes a little while to process, especially if speech is stilted.

*Use the home-school diary and email to pop any concerns/comments in, we had copious notes when D was in mainstream which trickled over to very little in SN school, they go by the “no news is good news” theory but having an email address means I can pop anything across.

*Playtime can be tricky for a SN child, noisy and overwhelming, this is usually when a 1:1 isn’t around and I’d hear that D would cling onto playground staff for reassurance, there’s no easy answer for this, or for not being included in play dates or parties.

Remind yourself that the other parents are missing out on getting to know a very individual child!

*And lastly, try and relax whilst they’re at school, I know it’s hard not to worry but have a coffee date or catch up on a tv programme or do something you haven’t been able to for ages – but keep that phone close by!

Good luck if your child is starting school in September.

If you have any further tips, pop them into comments Jx 


1 Comment

Inclusive Home on August 16, 2017 at 4:16 pm.

Great post!
We were lucky that EJ’s EHCP process went pretty smoothly. There was a tense moment when we weren’t sure if she’t be offered a place at our preferred SN school as it really was the only one we thought was right for her, but she did, and she loves school – phew!
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