Saturday, December 4, 2010

What's in my Toolbox

Ethan started preschool on Monday, and he's doing really well. Amazingly well. Not that I wasn't believing in him, but I am almost overwhelmed by his adjustment. I keep thinking there has to be a moment when the honeymoon's over and he realizes he has to go back to this place and work and interact, day in and day out, and that's when we'll encounter some resistance, but right now still he WANTS to go back. "Go to school any minute!" is his mantra, and he says it morning, afternoon and night.

In this first week I've learned that his teachers WILL be true to their word. They've already had him eating snack in the other classroom, the integrated room, and yesterday he did story time in there. His teacher confided in me that she wished she could "clone" him, and that the way things are going he won't be in her class for long. She's an awesome teacher, though, and now I almost don't want Ethan to lose her. No matter. They'll let him fly when he's ready. They've also been receptive to my idea about someone bringing him to the playgroup he and I used to attend on Thursday mornings, and already they are telling me of course what I already know: he needs to work on social interaction with other kids. They actually want to work to help he and another boy in his class to interact better with each other, and then bring them to the playgroup to work on those skills with other kids.

The biggest adjustment to having Ethan in preschool, besides my free time and sense of weirdness that my kids are in school now, is the limited interaction I have with his teachers. Basically, it's a minute in the morning and later when I go to pick him up, and a few notes scribbled in his communication notebook. I do have his teacher's email address. She's very open and willing to talk. There just isn't the time. This is school, there are schedules, there are multiple children. I have to get used to not having the luxury of people around for hour or more blocks of time who can answer any of my questions, at length.

Yet for the most part I'm not THAT distressed about this, and after thinking about it I'm realizing that while I don't know everything Ethan is doing every moment at school, and I may not know right off the bat how to deal with a specific issue, I've been left with some great tools thanks to Birth to 3. If I had to sum up "Everything I Needed to Know to Help Ethan I Learned in Birth to 3," it would go something like this:

1. Picture schedules (or verbal schedules) for the day are our friend.

2. First/Then ("first color, then you can go outside") has been a lifesaver in getting Ethan to try new things, and to focus.

3. Pair an undesirable activity with a desirable one (kind of like, "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down").

4. If HE picks an activity (i.e. doing a puzzle), be more strict about him following through, rather than if I picked the activity. If he says he's done, have him pick it up before jumping to something else.

5. Give warnings before an impending transition ("two more times down the slide, then we're going home"). Actually, this one is particulary helpful for all kids.

6. If he's losing interest, try making sure there is a set end to the activity ("let's throw the ball 5 more times, then we're done").

7. If he's not really listening or looking at me, try getting down to his level. Speak slowly. And wait for eye contact.

8. Do NOT get really hyped up about an undesirable behavior. This only reinforces the behavior. Catch the good behavior and be sure to reward with lots of praise or other rewards when appropriate.

9. Play to Ethan's interests to help him learn and to get him through difficult situations. For him, music is a big thing, so I've made up many songs about daily life to help him learn, and we also sing quietly in stressful situations (i.e. waiting in a restaurant for a long time) to help pass the time.

10. Trust my instincts. No matter how qualified someone is to care for my child, I still know my son best. I am his greatest teacher.

The situations may change, the challenges may vary over time, his teachers and therapists may come and go, but I am his constant. And I'm grateful to have the foundation, the tools, to help Ethan each day.

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