It seems impossible that our daughter is now beginning her journey to move up to upper school and in a way it is a shame that she needs to get used to another change, as after three years at her middle school, she has come so far and is settled with a small group of friends and thriving in her academic work.
Although it is an important part of development, for a child with ASD, change causes so much anxiety. Our daughter has found the past month to be very stressful and the decision of what school to go to has affected her sleeping and eating habits as well as her moods. She has been able to tell us that she doesn’t want to feel this way, but at the same time, she hasn’t known what was the best decision to make. Fortunately, the SEND staff at her current school have been fantastic and have supported both us and our daughter.
Last month we began the first of three visits to surrounding upper schools. We had always envisaged that she would choose the one that is within walking distance of our home. However, after her initial visit, she came away very unhappy and did not like the environment, in spite of knowing all of her friends would be going there. We kept an open mind and visited two other schools, as feel it is important to compare what else is on offer. When she walked into the one that is the furthest away (8 miles from our home), her body language indicated that she had found a new environment that she felt comfortable in. To me, the school she has finally chosen is a bigger version of the one she is currently in and she had a smile on her face as she walked round the school. Always a good sign.
During the past week, she went back to visit two of the original choices, so that she could be sure she was making the right decision. On Friday she came home excited about what she had seen at the school she has now chosen. She already has an idea of what GCSEs she wants to take and the clubs she wants to participate in. It is a brave decision from our daughter, as we had thought she would choose the nearest school to be with her friends. We would have accepted that, as unless she is in an environment where she feels settled, she will never reach her full potential. Instead, she has opted to go to a school where she will need to get a bus each day and make new friends. A similar thing happened four years ago, when we made the choice for middle school. We didn’t select the school in our catchment area as our daughter did not like it nor did we think it was the school best suited for her ASD needs. However, our daughter also wanted to go somewhere different from her peers in her lower school. She wanted to start afresh. Our daughter’s way of coping with change is to go for something completely different and it has worked for her in middle school. She is a far more confident girl, who knows what she wants out of life and we couldn’t be prouder of what she has achieved so far.
Now that the decision has been made of what upper school to attend and I have completed the online application, we are hoping that until we are notified on 1 March 2016 of what school she has been awarded, calm can resume in our house. Our daughter already looks happier and is ready to enjoy things again, rather than putting everything on hold until this decision was made.
No doubt next year will cause anxiety levels to rise again, but if she is awarded her chosen school, they have already assured us she can have as many visits as she needs between March and July to get used to the new environment. With the right preparation in place, our daughter will be able to cope and we will be there to support her on this next stage of her educational journey.