In my last post, that was mostly about the impact nice weather and exercise has on one’s mental health, I also mentioned that V has already started in a new kindergarten, namely his big brother’s basisgruppe. As already explained, it’s this Danish name of an institution that, along with being a normal kindergarten, has a special department of 6 children, all diagnosed with autism, taken care of by four employees, two of which are experts on working with children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). JA started on his birthday in February and V just finished his second week. And boy oh boy, the extent of the difference is nothing short of remarkable!
We got the news that V had gotten the spot on a Friday and that he would start on the Monday, one and a half week later. As we said our goodbyes at his old kindergarten, I think they were just as relieved as we were. Despite their best efforts, they were just not equipped with the facilities, experience, or number of staff, to properly care for our little V. And unfortunately for him, V was (amazingly!) their first case of a special needs child. So when I thanked them, during our farewells, and said that I hoped that they had learned a lot and that they would be better equipped when (not if) the next child with special needs would come along, it was said with the mixed feelings of appreciation, disappointment, and relief. As such, I felt a little bad later that night when we opened their farewell gift and it was a lovely picture book of V throughout his time there.
Yet, I neither have the time nor energy to feel bad for something like that for too long since my motivation is for my boys’ well-being and frankly, V wasn’t getting the best service possible where he was. This became apparent immediately after V joined his big brother in the basisgruppe. Already on the first day, they began teaching him their way of doing things, revolving around a structured routine throughout the day. They took his picture and placed it on several spots that “belong” to him, such as his chair, his cloakroom space, and last but not least above his boardmaker.
As an institution that is built on the foundation of TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-Handicapped Children), which emphasizes a highly structured and predictable classroom environment and the use of visual learning (the strength of many autistic individuals), the boardmaker is the key for all that takes place within the basisgruppe. It uses simple pictures to demonstrate the schedule of the day, thereby providing a sense of predictability, something that can make it easier for autistic children to switch from one activity to another since uncertainty of what is about to happen is often a big issue. A boardmaker also supports communication for children with communication difficulties and is sometimes a vital step in enabling them to express themselves and interact with others.
We have been trying to teach V to use the boardmaker at home (something we’ve been using for JA since last fall) but he hasn’t paid much attention. Maybe it’s because he is at home and used to being able to just go play with whatever he wants to play with and/or that he’s tired after a long day in the kindergarten. Maybe it’s because it’s been too many pictures at a time (see the picture above of JA looking at his boardmaker) and thus we are thinking of setting up a simple system that shows only the next two activities (see picture to the right).
And now, after only two short weeks in the basisgruppe, they’re saying that he’s already showing progress. He is starting to pay more attention to the boardmaker symbols that they show him, he is getting better at following the rules they make (e.g. like sitting still on his chair while eating and then when he’s finished to go straight to the pillow room). That is great news since we’ve always had trouble getting him to follow our schedule – he’s always done things based on his premises and had trouble following the rules and wishes of others. Perhaps we’ll see that change somewhat in the near future?
Of course, we were a bit nervous about how this whole thing would affect V. First of all, he is no longer in an institution where he is supposed to sleep during the day and although we were happy about that change, it was also something we were worried about. Would he be able to handle a whole day without sleep? Would he become sleep-deprived and grumpy, possibly leading to meltdowns and violent reactions? Further, we were wondering if this change in kindergarten, that is only to last for three or four months until we move to Iceland, was another issue. Would it be too much for him to change kindergarten and then change once again in a few months time? That last part will remain to be seen but it’s clear from the two weeks since he started that the other worries were unnecessary. To our relief and joy, V embraced his new situation with stoicism that surprised us all. I hope it will be the same when we move to Iceland.
There was another matter that we were also a bit worried about; how the presence of V would affect JA, now that they would not only be in the same institution for the first time but also in the same little department. Would he feel that V was violating his space, that this was his place and that V didn’t belong there? So we tried our best to prepare him by telling him these little stories about how exciting it was that V would soon be joining him and that it would be so much fun. We told him that from then on, we would all bike together to the kindergarten in the mornings (almost a 7 km route that takes almost 25 minutes to bike one way) and then back in the afternoons and how that would be so much fun. It seemed to work since he was both very excited about the trips back and forth and full of anticipation for V to be there. And after V started, there have barely been any problems at all in that regard. JA has happily welcomed his little brother and if anything, been a little too protective of him. We’ve seen a positive development in their relationship at home as well. They’ve started to pay more attention to each other’s play, being less aggressive towards each other and in general, seem to be enjoying each other’s company more than before. If this isn’t a success story I don’t know what is! So, all in all, we are thrilled with this new situation and hope that things will continue to develop so positively. It is even clearer to me now just how important the right kind of institution – and the people working with your children – are for its prosperity.
Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing are always welcomed – xx Ragga