(Left) Will's first day of preschool (Right) Will's last day of preschool
The first time I took Will to meet his preschool teacher back in September, he was very excited to check out the classroom and play with new toys. We were visiting after school hours and he had the room to himself. Seeing how much fun Will was having, his teacher turned to me and said "What is your transition strategy?" I replied that I didn't understand what she meant.
She explained that for most children on the autism spectrum, it is difficult to move on from one location or activity without some kind of positive incentive. The incentive could be offering a snack, a treat, or pointing out that there is something else fun to do at the next location. Sometimes it is necessary to explain to the child beforehand what the plan is ("First, we go to the park, then we get ice cream") and repeat it several times so that when it is time to go, they understand that is something good waiting for them if they follow directions.
Unfortunately, I did not have a transition strategy that day and Will was NOT happy when I told him we had to leave. After a long negotiation, Will agreed to go home only if he could take some Fisher-Price knights and their castle with him. We sent it back to school with him on his first day and were mildly surprised when he brought it home at the end of the day. Apparently they needed to use the same transition strategy. Eventually he got used to the routine of going to school and coming home and the knights got to stay at school.
There are different ways to help a child with ASD to understand plans and schedules. One of them is called a social story. It uses pictures and words to break a normal routine into easy-to-understand pieces. It is also a good reference if they need to know what happens next. Here is an example that I found on Pinterest that just happens to be about going to the dentist.
Sesame Street recently released a website and app to help educate parents and children about autism. It also had tools to help kids with ASD to learn about navigating daily routines. Here is a link: Sesame Street Daily Routine Cards. Will loves to read these cards on the app and has actually quoted from them while he is engaged in one of the routines.
Sometimes things that were once routine for Will suddenly become difficult and we need to calibrate our approach. Other times, Will surprises us and will happily stop what he is doing when we ask him to and transition to the next activity or location. Life with Will can be unpredictable but for the most part both we and he have gotten better equipped at handling transitions.
Transitions come in all shapes and sizes and our family went through a fairly major one about six months ago when we moved from Virginia to Ashley's hometown in Salem, Oregon. Prior to moving to Oregon, we were able to visit and meet with an administrator in the special education program in the school district about Will and his needs. That meeting allowed us to set up his IEP with his new support team exactly one day after we moved there. All told, he only missed out on a week of preschool and that was partly because of the Thanksgiving holiday.
The immediate transition was fairly smooth because Will was once again excited to be in a new classroom with new toys. He also got to ride on a new bus. Within a few weeks, the novelty of this preschool started to wear off and Will would cry when we put him on the bus in the morning. According to his teachers, he would usually be calm by the time he arrived at school but it didn't make the transition onto the morning bus any easier for him (or us). His crying became worse each morning until some days he screamed as we buckled him into his seat. One day, his morning bus driver surprised him with a coloring book and crayons to play with while he rode to school. She reported that he was a lot happier on the bus.
Unfortunately, Will was a lot less enthusiastic about the coloring book the next morning. After one day, it just didn't interest him anymore. Ashley and I decided we would let Will take one of his favorites books to read on the bus. The bus driver told us that the difference in his demeanor was like night and day. She said he was so busy reading the book that he didn't seem to care that he was having to say goodbye to us in the morning. This was the beginning of a daily routine in which Will got to pick which book he would read on the bus and instead of him dreading the ride to school, he was now excited for his special reading time. In an effort to supply Will newer, interesting books to read, Ashley started making regular trips to the library. Here's a picture of Will wasting no time in starting one of the library books that Ashley just brought home.
Last week Will had his last day of the school year at his preschool here in Oregon. You can see how much he has grown in the photo comparison at the beginning of this post. The ways he has grown emotionally and behaviorally over that same time period are very encouraging.
In a similar vein, I recently put together a video showing Felicity and Will growing up together over the first 12 months of Felicity's life.
Making the video gave me a chance to review what Will was like a year ago. That in turn lead me to re-read some of my blog posts from this fall and not only encouraged me to write THIS post, but I am hoping to write again soon to explain some ways that Will has grown since his diagnosis.