Like any sane person would do when they are 22 weeks pregnant, I decided to fire our therapist, reduce sessions and introduce Khaled to preschool myself.
Mostly because I cannot afford it, and also because I just cannot find the right person to work with my son. No one knows what to do! If they know what to do, they are stuck and won't adapt to the changing child. It is ridiculous how many bad apples are out there damaging children and most parents are still thinking that it is working. There are people out there who still use the ABLLS and think its the best. Anyway, its scary.
So now we are down to 3 Behavior sessions (2.5 hours each) a week (at home). 2 preschool sessions (with me). Rest of the time when we are "doing something together" we do RDI or do stuff out in the community.
Past preschool failure
Preschool has not been successful for Khaled in the past.
At age 2.5, when we did not know he had Autism, we put him in a regular Montessori. There were 15 kids, 3 teachers and one room. It failed. He got diagnosed and we were encouraged to remove him and move him in to a "special" government run preschool. That was England. Thank God I decided to up and leave and moved back to Canada.
This spring we tried the Toronto Parks and Rec Preschool Discovery Program. It was a, once a week, 2 hour session with mostly boys Khaled's age. They had very few meaningful toys. There was one meaningless craft activity and no circle time.
Like everything, Khaled quickly started perseverating on specific toys and when his therapist stopped him, he turned the preschool routine in to a "I go in there and pick fights with my therapist and then scream" routine. It didn't matter what she did in there, he found a way to pick a fight with her. This had mostly to do with the nature of his disability and particular deficits, the lack of stimulation in the preschool and also something to do with the therapist's approach. Present Day
Now at age 4 we are going to a new co-op nursery school. Co-op preschools are run by parents. Parents are given a bunch of "duties". I am fundraising assistant.
Due to the complexity that is Khaled, I did not think there was anyone capable of taking him there and not turning it into another failure. I figured if I failed, at least 1) I would not be wasting money paying a therapist 2) I wouldn't waste time blaming someone 3) I would once and for all give up in preschools and shift focus back at home.
Today was our first day. There were only two other kids in the room. We went in mid session, so circle time and the transition from outside (playground) to indoor was over. So that's two battles we avoided. We made an entrance when it was "free play time". Ideal. Parallel play is our strong point. There is still a lot to teach in that like other people's boundaries, not disturbing other's activity/play, not snatching things and so on.
Khaled amazed me today. When he puts in a monumental effort to control himself like he did today, it means he really wants to be there.
Some of his highlights:
He referenced and smiled at both the teachers when they came up to him. That was his subtle attempt to try and engage them.
He helped tidy up without a fuss.
He built a cardboard block tower with two other kids, without any supervision or coercion from me.
He sat on his chair during snack without any problems. When the teacher was making conversation with the other girls during snack he made some sounds while looking away from them and scripted something that went "Khaled Khaled stop bothering". I knew he wanted to make conversation or talk, but that is all he could manage.
During "story time", I asked him if he wanted story or puzzle and he chose puzzle.
Then there was song time and he enjoys singing. The teacher turned on the stereo and everyone sang the ABC song. His face lit up because he recognized it and he looked from one kid to the other and beamed. He tried to crawl towards them to show his affection but by this age kids have developed a strong sense of personal space and they were a bit confused. I had to keep asking him to stay in his spot.
He did a splendid job of following a stick tapping game, referencing and following the teacher's instructions.
We had three instances of screams and breakdown:
1) He was done playing with the marble run but instead of tidying it up nicely, he chose to throw it in its box. This is usually because he has played with something longer than he can regulate himself and he is trying to pick a fight with me to control my words or so I can tell him off so he can scream. I just reinforced him when he was being gentle and ignored when he was shoving it in.
2) He wanted to touch the stereo that was playing the songs. But thankfully the stick tapping game was more reinforcing than touching the stereo. When they started head and shoulders or some other group song I forget, he just wanted to go back and touch the stereo and I had to physically stop him. I hate doing that. There was screaming.
Solutions I can think of for next time:
Take mat with me to mark a spot where he can sit.
Have another activity ready for when he doesn't want to do the singing, so I can give him a choice of "you cannot touch the stereo but you can do this instead". That way he feels some sense of control.
3) He did not want to go home! He cried and cried and when we got out of the preschool I told him he did a really good job and it is home time and I will buy him french fries at the mall.
On the way there I listed verbally all the things he had done in the school. He echoed them back excitedly and you could tell from his scripting and body language that he was really really happy.
He got more "rewards" (glass elevator in the mall, hand drier in the mall toilet) and constant reminders of "You were good, you listened to mommy, you did not touch belly button, you did not snatch toys, you played and shared, you sang songs" etc etc, every time I gave him a reward.
I think it was a success. The thing with Khaled is that first times are usually successful. He loves novel situations and will put in a real effort to do well. It is only when they start getting old that he tries to assert control and establish control based routines which are very hard to break.
I wish I could convince myself that it will get easier, but I know, from experience, that it is going to get harder.
I know it is only preschool and really I don't expect him to come out of there normal or reading and writing. It is just another place to go and do the same things we do everywhere else. But I feel a lot of pressure for some reason. If it doesn't work, it is almost always because we failed to scaffold, reinforce and punish appropriately. I guess I just don't like failing!