The Road to Mainstream – Part 3
This is the third post in a series dedicated to following the transition of my son, Gilbert Bear from a special education setting to a mainstream classroom. Part 1 documented his education settings up to now and Part 2 went over the paperwork and administrative preparation required to enable his transition into the NSW Department of Education.
Part 3 is all about how we are preparing Gilbert himself for this big change. After all, he is the reason we are doing this and it is imperative that we prepare him as well as we can in order to give the transition process the best chance of success.
We have taken a few approaches to prepare Gilbert for this change:
1. Informal Visits: all year, we have encouraged Gilbert to come to the school with us and get used to the layout of the playground, the ambient noise, the office, the teachers and staff and the bell (which is actually music played over a loud speaker system). Encouraging regular informal visits has provided him with a non-threatening way to get used to the school and has helped ease his fears when contemplating more formal visits to the school.
2. Formal Supported Transition Visits: so far, Gilbert has had 3 supported half day visits with ASPECT staff where he spent time in the mainstream class he will move into next year. He is also having weekly 2 hour visits supported by an Itinerant Support Teacher Vision.
These visits have allowed him to see what it’s going to be like at his new school and has given him some certainty about what next year will bring. It has also been a nice way to familiarise him with the other kids in his class. He has even come home and told me what some of them have said to him, and in his last visit, one of the girls in his class asked him to sit next to her for his visit. Honestly, what more can any parent ask for, other than acceptance for their child?
3. Social Stories: these stories are widely used with kids on the autism spectrum and are a very effective way “to describe a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format.” They were first developed by Carol Gray and have proved very successful in reinforcing appropriate behaviours for kids on the spectrum.
We are currently developing a social story for Gilbert which will include a picture of his teacher, his classroom and important facilities like the office, canteen and toilets. The story will be used over the summer break to keep him familiar with the school and help counter the lengthy break away from the routine that school terms bring.
4. Occupational Therapy: we have stepped up Gilbert’s OT visits to make the transition process easier for him. It has also been a great way to review his progress and develop strategies to manage his sensory needs in his new classroom environment. I really think the success of his transition visits so far is due to this strategy and we will be continuing with this in the new year to support his complete integration.
5. Listening: I have made it a priority to talk to Gilbert every day about how he is feeling and to really listen to what he tells me. He has expressed a natural fear and anxiety and nervousness in relation to the transition visits and I have talked to him about his feelings and encouraged him to try to express them in a positive way. I have also celebrated the good things he has told me, like how another boy in his class likes Scooby Doo too and how some of the other kids have asked to play with him at lunch time.
These are just a few ways that we are trying to support Gilbert during this process. It is a long road and is nowhere near over yet, but it has started off well and we’re hoping we won’t encounter too many bumps in the road following these strategies.
I will end this series with Part 4, where I will share our overall experience during this process and touch on the good things and the bad things we have encountered along the way – I really hope you can join me for the conclusion to our journey to mainstream.