It is coming up to high school enrolment time.
This is scary on so many levels. I have been dreading this for years.
No doubt every parent sheds a tear and wonders, ‘Where have all the years gone?’ when one of their babies emerges from the relative cocoon of primary school to enter the rough-and-tumble, this-is-life world of high school. I know I did when my daughter made the move last year.
It is a massive step.
You no longer have the safety of one teacher and one room. You no longer move around the school as a class group, lead by the teacher. You have your own timetable (which looks like a nightmare to follow) and become responsible for getting yourself to the right lesson, in the right room at the right time — repeat six times in a day.
And then there’s the homework.
No more ‘grids’ (I am celebrating that) handed out on one day, all due a week or fortnight later; instead you get random assignments throughout the term, handed out and due in at random times, from random teachers who don’t know or care what else has been handed out and may be clashing.
As I said, this is life! But the transformation happens overnight.
I taught Year 6 for five years. I thought I was preparing my students for high school. (As did my daughter’s Year 6 teachers, and, no doubt, as do Geordie’s current teachers.)
Yeah … no! Not even close!
My daughter has really only just got her head around high school (particularly the assignment part) — and she does not have Asperger’s.
All children with Asperger’s are different, but one frequently occurring trait, which certainly applies in Geordie’s case, is a difficulty coping with change. Not knowing how things are going to work, what is going to happen and what the expectations are can cause anxiety and meltdowns. All the changes associated with high school — new building, unknown teachers, different classrooms, unknown peers, plus the concept of the cyclic timetable — are overwhelming.
Being a proactive parent (and show me a parent of any special-needs child who isn’t), I decided I would take Geordie to a few high schools so someone could show us around during the school day.
I need the high school decision to be Geordie’s, knowing that if I push him in any direction, or try to decide for him, we could well be in for a horrific year next year. This knowledge was prompted by Geordie’s firm declaration (after being dragged to yet another parent information session two years ago when we were checking out high schools for his sister), ‘I do not want to go here.’ Here being the high school we eventually chose for her.
In saying the decision needs to be Geordie’s, I will add that any high school that doesn’t respond positively to my request is simply off the list. After all, if they are not interested now, how well with they accommodate Geordie’s needs next year? Not at all, I suspect.
At this stage we have visited one school … one. Judging on the response, it may need to be the only one we visit. It was our local high school; I will be honest, I swore neither of my children would attend this school because of its past abysmal reputation. This reputation, to my understanding, was not gained due to the staff or the programs, but due to the clientele the school attracted. To put it simply — students who didn’t enrol in private schools, or couldn’t get in to out of area ‘better’ schools went to the local school.
To be fair, there have been students who have chosen this school. The son of a friend did. He loved it. They both did and won’t hear a word against it. Then again, I’ve also heard some horror stories — just not recently.
And there are multiple positives:
♦ They are a small school, physically and in terms of population (less than half of the students that are at his current primary school). TICK!
♦ There is an inclusion support program, which Geordie won’t be in but he will be able to access the facilities. These include the ‘quiet lockers’ (away from the hubbub of the main corridor) and the ‘break away room’ (a quiet space for use if the student feels overwhelmed either during class or at lunch). TICK!
♦ They do not give homework! I kid you not (and have to wonder why all schools can’t be like this). Admittedly, this was the biggest seller for both of us. DOUBLE TICK!
We made an appointment and spent a lovely hour at the school talking to the Deputy, checking out the timetable (which actually appealed to Geordie’s sense of logic and structure), touring the corridors and watching a transition between lessons (surprisingly ordered and quiet).
Geordie was hooked. Number one was the no-homework policy, but he also liked the quiet lockers and the small size of the school. When I asked, he said he felt comfortable about attending this school next year. Did he want to check out another school? Not really.
While I am not in possession of a crystal ball and cannot foresee what the future will bring, this one visit has lifted a weight off my shoulders and I firmly believe we have done the right thing.
For me, it is so important to: be open with Geordie; include him in all discussions; and let him take ownership over decisions which will, ultimately, affect him.
Not everyone with children who are on the spectrum have this opportunity — I am forever thankful we do.