Each January, a new cohort of parents begin navigating the unknown of Prep for the first time, often struggling with the conflicting emotions that come with sending their child into the big wide world. For families who have a child with autism, this time can understandably bring with it an additional layer of complexity and uncertainty. Here at AEIOU, we focus on identifying the necessary pre-requisite skills each child needs to be able to move towards success at school, something we often refer to as “learning to learn”. For Brisbane mum Maria, this support has seen daughter Ariana flourish in the lead up to her first day as a “Preppie”.
We knew Ariana was ready for school and felt like we had done all the right preparations for this next stage of her life. A lot of this I credit to the wonderful work that AEIOU has done with Ariana over the past to two years. Without the intensive early intervention, I think her transition and readiness would have been far more challenging.
Ariana is a very curious and active child who loves adventure and I think that she sees school as a fun place and somewhere that has lots of learning and exploring opportunities for her. She has been really excited about starting school for some time. When we visited the school to pick up her book pack she didn’t want to leave. We had to explain to her that it was still school holidays and she would have to wait patiently a little longer.
As a mum, I’ve been feeling a mixture of emotions about this new chapter in our lives. On one hand I am excited and eager and on the other hand, anxious and nervous. I know that the road ahead is not always going to be easy or smooth sailing, but I feel that we have changed the outlook for Ariana by accessing the AEIOU program, and that means a lot to me.
She has made so much progress in the two years that we were at AEIOU. When she started, Ariana had limited language and would communicate by crying, screaming or pointing. However, within weeks of starting, we noticed her greeting staff when she walked into the centre of a morning. After six months, Ariana was honestly like a different child. She was using a lot more words to communicate and really engaging with us, which made a huge difference to our family life. We saw improvements in her social skills and functional play, as she chose to play with friends rather than on her own. Now two years on, Ariana’s language has really exploded, and she is talking in 4-5 word sentences. I’m amazed every time I hear her chatting and I love listening to the sound of her voice. She also really enjoys playing games with friends and is motivated to seek that companionship. She has formed some close friendships at AEIOU, which as a parent, was beautiful to see.
Aside from helping her achieve communication and social milestones, AEIOU has done a great deal around preparing Ariana for school by building her classroom skills and familiarising her with classroom routines. This included things like mat time (being able to sit and listen to a story), following instructions, asking for help, taking turns, fine motor skills, pencil grip, and learning alphabet and numbers. The staff were also in regular contact, which helped us to keep track of Ariana’s development as we moved closer towards her school transition and to reinforce the learning at home.
As a family we started preparing for school quite a few months prior so we could make the transition as smooth as possible. We started by talking about school and then visited a few times with her. The school also arranged a number of transition sessions at the end of the year for all the new prep students. She really enjoyed these and by the final visit seemed quite comfortable and relaxed within the school environment. We also involved Ariana in all the purchases associated with school, so she felt part of the process. She can be a little bit headstrong when it comes to clothing and didn’t really take to her uniform straightaway, so, we practiced wearing the uniform at home to allow her to get used to it and accept that this is what she needs to wear to school. Fortunately, this strategy has paid off and she is quite happily wearing the uniform now.
On a final note, we are just so grateful for our time with AEIOU and the impact it’s had on Ariana’s development and our family life. The staff at AEIOU are amazing to say the least. We have not come across a more dedicated, passionate, enthusiastic and professional team of people. When I reflect, my fondest memories are of the staff who were like family to us; they supported us through our journey, reassured us when things seemed hard, and matched our enthusiasm when we celebrated successes. We now have every confidence Ariana can achieve anything with the right supports and today we feel positive about her future. Just because she has autism doesn’t mean she has to dream less or dream small. We think it’s just the opposite and will always support her to believe in herself.
By Maria Adebiyi