My son William (5), has CTD, and started big school for the first time this year. William has always been very passive, largely due to his temperament but also his lack of physical mobility (walking etc.) and significant expressive communication delays. Our main concern was that he would get overwhelmed and lost in a large class at a mainstream school due to his developmental delays but he had demonstrated such an enthusiasm for learning during the previous year (since he started walking) that he wouldn’t be challenged enough at a Special School.
After much agonising thought and lots of changing minds, we decided to start him at our local government run school and see how he went. If there was any indication that he was not adjusting well then we could transfer him to a Special School or he could do another year of Kindergarten and we could re-evaluate things.
When he first started big school in February this year, he had no toileting skills and he fell over a lot trying to keep up with the other children while moving around the school for different classes. He was using an immature full hand grasp (no pencil grip) and drawing scribbles. Although he used some basic expressive language at home (verbally, some signing and picture cards), at school he did not speak a word except if someone was working with him one on one. He was very overwhelmed, easily distracted but very motivated to learn, particularly at home.
Lucky for us, William has always been VERY motivated by letters of the alphabet and numbers – these are his passions and strengths. He loves identifying letters, making letter sounds and counting things. He is also a very visual learner. Almost every morning and afternoon, he comes running to me or my husband wanting to do phonics, sight words or home readers. I don’t know another child who wants to do homework so often! He practices counting every day – counting bollards or mailbox numbers when we are out on walks, watching the microwave timer count down, or counting himself to sleep.
One of our greatest challenges has been that, although he does these activities at home, he rarely demonstrates them at school unless in a one-on-one situation, which most teaching staff don’t have a lot of time to do. Consequently, I have spent a lot of time volunteering in his class, and sending photos and short videos to his teacher of William doing things at home. Throughout the year, we have also been working very hard with his teachers and his Physiotherapist, Speech Language Pathologist and Occupational Therapists (both private and education funded) to improve his gross and fine motor skills, social skills, and expressive communication skills.
William has now been at school for three quarters of the year. He has improved his confidence and can be quite chatty to his teachers. He has made great gains in his mobility – he is now running and starting to walk down stairs unassisted. His pencil grip still needs improvement but he has progressed to drawing vertical and horizontal lines and just last week drew a circle/oval for the first time! We were so excited! We are currently waiting to trial an electronic communication device which should arrive in the next month or so. His social skills are also improving – he will now occasionally reply “Hello” or “Bye bye” with a wave or a high five if a teacher or peer greets him.
As the end of the school year is fast approaching, we now face the difficult decision about whether
to repeat him or allow him to move on to Grade One. We feel he would benefit greatly from having an extra year to work on the foundational skills for learning given that he has made such great improvements. The school is recommending that he progress with his peers to Grade One and that they adjust the curriculum to meet his needs. I have learnt over the past year or so that I need to be very proactive in advocating for William’s needs so we are currently consulting with his therapists and teachers before making a final decision. Whatever happens, I know that we will have all the information we need to make a very confident decision and not be overwhelmed and unsure like we were last year.