With the new term in full swing, a We Are Family member reflects on the transition to secondary school and the progress made by her son.  An optimistic and insightful perspective for anyone going through or anticipating this big move.

My beautiful six-year-old son is doubled up in fear, unable to move. He is trying to step across the threshold of our home to go outside.

That was an everyday experience five years ago. Today, that same beautiful boy sailed past me out of the door, beaming in smart new uniform, and jogging away from the house towards his fourth day of secondary school. 

I don’t know how long this wonderful experience can last – soon his executive functioning will be under pressure as lessons, homework, organisation requirements and social interactions pile in. 

It is likely that he will begin to feel shame as he perceives himself to be a failure and ‘other’, and he will be tempted to turn to old soothing strategies, taking food, pocketing items from other people’s bags, hiding in small, dark places, chewing his sleeves to threads.

But for now, I watch him leave with hope, taking a moment to feel proud of the effort he is making and the work we have done to help him with this significant transition. 

Although it’s only the beginning, it has already been a two-and-a-half-year effort, starting with a fight to get an EHCP awarded. Then we snuck into open days a year early, to ask SEN and Inclusion teams the difficult questions without our son present.  We read school websites, scoured forums, and interrogated friends of friends. I took detours past schools at home time, peeking at the children’s expressions as they came out. 

Eventually we realised that no school would meet all his needs, and none seemed to have enough specialist personnel. So, we decided on three Es for evaluation – Ethos, Expertise, and the first hand Experience of others. This made reaching a decision surprisingly easy.

Now we had to share our thoughts with our son. Too much information too fast would be overwhelming and too little would drive anxiety sky-high.

Initially we shared simple positive information about the school and gave him a campus map which he instantly memorised. Then for months we answered innumerable questions and took detours past the school together, making its name part of our everyday chat. 

We planned a relaxing, but absorbing summer with familiar places and people, as we knew anxiety would build, and in this safe environment we gradually introduced information and equipment. Uniform, rucksacks, coat, travel card and pencil cases hung around, until they became familiar and less scary, and then he helped cut the price labels out and put the name labels in. 

Watching videos of the school triggered a week of meltdowns. One night he emptied the fridge and cupboards of all the snack food and binged his way through it. But with only five days to go, we had to tackle the school commute.  I dreaded it, unable to envisage a near future when he would travel independently. But we broke it into stages and practiced, until one day he navigated it all by himself door-to-door, mastering it just in time to give him a wave of confidence that he has surfed on all through his first week.

Transitions will never be easy, and we have many challenges to face, but whenever I feel tempted to despair, I will remember the pure blooming joy of these first few days and how far we have come.

Author: We Are Family member

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