Should I send my autistic son back to school in lockdown?

Each morning, as households across Britain stir themselves reluctantly for another day of home-schooling, I am one of a tiny sub-set of parents at the school gates.

I watch my autistic son join his new bubble of 11 seven-year-olds, while also watching the faces of my fellow parents.

Despite masks, the mixture of both relief and concern is clear to see: they have the help they need but at a risk to themselves and society. 

There are 50 children in my son’s school as of last week, out of a possible 450. This includes those whose parents are key workers and those with a designated social worker or Educational Healthcare Plan (an EHCP). 

If you are not of the ‘additional needs’ world, an EHCP is a legally binding document signed by parents, teachers and the local authority outlining any special learning needs a child has, and a commitment to tackle them. 

It’s been a harrowing week. The Prime Minister addressed the nation, we applied to send Benjamin to school and he went – all within 36 hours.

Big decisions were made quickly with little time to fully prepare him for such shifts. Despite Boris Johnson’s pledge that schools will remain open to children with an EHCP (we have one) it is not as simple as that for us and for many other autistic families. 

Benny is a very tactile and affectionate child, he wants to hug and sometimes requires physical contact to ground himself. Sound familiar? 

Like many children on the spectrum, his senses are easily overloaded and, due to his inefficient proprioception system (the sixth sense of inherently knowing where your body is in time and space) and his wonky vestibular system (balance), he can feel physically disorientated. 

This manifests itself in seemingly strange ways. A table, chair or even the floor may seem to move beneath him, while large spaces – such as the beach – can feel limitless and daunting. Sometimes in bed he puts his head on the boney side of my hand or I put a book in his pillow to help him feel connected. At this he will relax, sigh and drift off to sleep.

All of this means that Benny feels for people with his hands when he is talking to them. They may seem far away when they are standing right next to him, and he often needs a big squeeze to make the world around him less fuzzy. 

These behaviours are considered socially unacceptable at the best of times, but imagine needing physical contact in the context of a highly contagious virus!

Back in March Benny was home-schooled as we felt his inability to socially distance posed a risk to him and others. Eventually he returned in June for two days a week and it lit him up.

He felt special, he was reunited with his one-to-one support teacher and it gave him the structure and mental stimulus he so desperately craves.

This time around his school was impressively prepared and he was welcomed back. Friends of mine, however, chose to keep their autistic sons at home.

For these children, it’s school but not as they know it. Their buddies would not be in their newly-formed bubble, they wouldn’t be with their teacher, they might not even be based in their classroom. 

For ASD children such change can be gut-wrenching and shatter the learning environment and their positive perception of school – which may have painstakingly taken years to build.

In these cases, the home offers more consistency and stability than school. It turns out, they had a point.

The first few days of new look ‘lockdown’ school proved distressing as Benny was slung back in. The advice has now been to only one change one of his environments, not both, so we won’t be running the home schooling timetable on the days he is off. Monday is his day for exercise and adventure, a little of what he finds easy (maths), reading and play. Hopefully his special day will give him renewed focus for the rest of the week in school. 

The call to send Benny back, albeit made quickly, also highlights the divisive nature of Covid. It meant separating him from his twin sister who, due to her typical development, is being home schooled.

Deeply sociable and hard working, she feels left-out. Once again, he is getting special treatment. She faces at least six weeks at home with her three-year-old brother hanging off her while she studies online and her only interaction with her friends will be via Zoom. 

Benny’s need for contact is physical, but Aggy’s is emotional, and both are equally vital to their wellbeing.  When Benny left for school this morning he gave Aggy a big hug, apropos of nothing, and said dramatically: “I love you Aggy, and I’ll never forget you.”

I did point out he would be home again at 3.30pm but the significance of this separation did not escape either of them. In fact, it reflects the bigger picture of divided families and friends over the course of the pandemic.  

Source Article

Next Post

The best Star Wars gifts for 2021, from video games to Baby Yoda plush

Mon Jan 11 , 2021
The last year of Star Wars was all about TV, with the second season of The Mandalorian bringing more Baby Yoda adventures and glorious final season of The Clone Wars filling in Ahsoka Tano’s story on Disney Plus. That means that quite a bit of fresh Star Wars merchandise has entered the fray! Entertain your […]

You May Like