“Head Start social stories” went into the google search bar, and a few clicks later, I found what I was looking for: http://depts.washington.edu/hscenter/downloads. We’re not in Washington, but they were still perfectly applicable. I typed in Simon’s name, age, and school where prompted, made a few adjustments, and printed story after story, with pictograms of happy children, angry children, and washing hands sliding by. When handing Simon the little packet of pages, I told him, with great enthusiasm, “look Simon! I made these stories for you!” He hustled to the table with the book to look it over. We read the stories to him, he read the stories to me, and I tried to be sure it didn’t up too far under all the other books. We were going to get a spot in Head Start soon, and we needed to be ready.
Another phone call and we had a day to meet the teacher. We read the stories again and after Simon was in bed, Bob and I formed a plan for getting him ready. I wrote out, on the back of a manila folder I used to bring documentation for the teacher home from work, a getting ready for schedule. We started at 7:30 with going potty. By 8:00 am it was time for sensory activities: a list of things he would like to do that would give him the calming, centering, regulating proprioceptive input that would start him off in the best sensory space he could be in. After we worked our way through going potty again, getting on shoes, and heading to the car, we compiled a list of sensory fun that we could truly accomplish in the morning. Crashing Daddy made the list, but not crashing mommy. Burrito rolls were left off, as I love to do it with Simon, but Bob feels uncomfortable. I gathered ideas I’d read on the SPD blogger network and the sensory support Facebook pages, and we ended up adding tug of war, crawling through a tunnel with animal walks, and reading in the rocking chair with a heavy blanket.
With our manila folder schedule complete, it was time to practice. I started out on Monday morning, taking a whining Simon through the steps to get ready for school. Though whimpering and complaining the whole morning, we successfully completed each step on time. At 8:30 he was fed, clothed, clean, and regulated, so we headed to Swap and Play to hang out. Tuesday morning we were at it again, this time with Bob running the show as I headed out to work. I left the house to Simon screaming and hurling things at the door; he had expected me to practice with him again, as I had done it the morning before. He certainly wasn’t opposed to Bob being there with him, they’re together every day, but the unexpected change caused him great distress. He settled down when I was gone, and they were again out the door on time, with everything accomplished. Tuesday evening we wrote a special advanced list, writing out what we would do the next day.
On the list was: Practice going to school, playtime, lunch, meet Mark at Swap and Play, and of course, the big one: Meet Teacher Sam. Simon whimpered and darted about, unfocused and upset. I asked him what was wrong, and with a little gentle leading, he talked about feeling nervous about not knowing what would happen. Bob and I both reassured him, and when he woke up the next morning, it was all excitement and impatience to meet the new teacher. I left work early and met my boys and we took an antsy Simon to the Head Start building. He was polite, he introduced us to Teacher Sam, and settled in to the train set he was shown. The three of us grownups sat in tiny kid chairs and filled out a form, talking about how well Simon reads, how hard it is for him to use scissors, and how he might react to loud sounds or being touched. I brought out the list I had typed of Simon’s challenges and ideas of how to help him in the classroom. Sam read it over, asked questions, and made a few suggestions. He came up with a spot to story dry clothes and headphones, and suggested we may not need to do much for circle time, because it’s really quite brief. We shook hands, took our photocopy of the daily and monthly schedule, and headed off to a victory dinner at Burgerville with our high hopes and nervous bellies.
I took a few minutes that night to write out the long morning schedule as it would be each school day, from 7:30 potty trip to 11:45 end of school. It’s in permanent ink, as it will stay unchanged, and there is still room for afternoon and weekend lists to the side. He noticed it right after waking up and came in to tell me, warm, sleeping me, that there was a strange word on his list he didn’t know. After finally dragging myself out of bed, I told him the word was “choosing,” and that was the time at school he could choose one of several activities in class. He whined about that, it was confusing and ambiguous, but promptly turned chipper and told me he was ready to go to school. At 6:50, in pajamas, and unfed, I had to tell him it would be a little while. He fretted about the time, tried to avoid brushing his teeth, and made a big, successful effort to put both of his shoes on completely by himself, and it was finally time to go. We walked slowly across the surprise snow into the car.
After a few restless pauses for me to take pictures, we were at his classroom door. Other kids and parents were streaming in, and some recognized Simon as new, and said hello. He didn’t respond as he was trying to find a spot to hang his sweater and rush into the classroom. His cubby was labeled and outerwear stowed, and after a bit of wiggling in the hall, Teacher Sam was ready for the kids. Simon ignored him as he pointed out Simon’s paperwork cubby in the class, and headed to the carpet where kids gather to play. I called him back, showed him where he could find his headphones, and sent him off to play again. I gushed and cooed over his little name card by his breakfast plate, and quickly froze, startled, when someone yelled. Simon went running. He ran to the front of the class where Bob and I lingered, turned and headed to the store. Thinking we were going to have a new challenge on our hands of classroom fleeing, I started to call him back, to tell him he can’t leave the classroom. I stopped mid-sentence as he reached onto a shelf and pulled out his headphones. His headphones that work like magic, but that we often have to force him to wear. He put them on by himself, with a little adjusting from Bob, took a few breaths, and rejoined the kids on the carpet. After getting over my shock, it seemed like it was time for us to go. We said goodbye and were ignored as we walked timidly out the class.
Through evaluations, diagnosis, occupational therapy, social therapy, daily lists, sensory diets, social stories, reminders, good days, bad days, new friends and new places, we had finally arrived. We left our son in a preschool classroom as he successfully used his tools to manage his sensitivities. He had a great first day, and while we know they all won’t go quite this well, we know he’ll succeed and that we can proudly watch our efforts and interventions help our son do well and truly thrive.