Wednesday 17 February 2010

Nursery Roulette

Two good pieces of news to relate, both concerning Adam. He has a date next week for his diagnosis, and although we have a fair idea what the outcome will be, that official confirmation will still come as a huge relief. Not least because the information will feed into the crucial decision about what school he goes to when he begins in August. Because Euan's diagnosis was late, he had to go through a year of mainstream primary - something he was clearly unsuited to - and though the school jumped through hoops to accommodate him, it led to further upheaval when he transferred to a special school for his second year. With Adam our hope is that the process be smoother, easier and fairer for all concerned.
We have also secured a place for Adam in a specialist nursery where he will spend 12 weeks being closely observed by trained staff, who will then write an assessment of his progress. With three members of staff attending to half a dozen children, he will have the kind of individual attention that it's impossible to provide at a mainstream nursery. Sadly that's a problem that has been magnified by the attitude of the staff at Adam's regular nursery, who have done little to engage with his social difficulties or even acknowledge that there's a problem. When Magteld told one of the nurses to watch out for Adam hitting toys against his forehead, which he does when he's excited or overstimulated, she got the flat response: 'Oh, he doesn't do that here.' Meetings to discuss his progress were hamstrung by a perception that promoting the nursery's good practice was more important than evaluating Adam's behaviour. 'He's a good little boy, he's never any trouble, he just plays quietly by himself,' they'd say, entirely missing the point that the 'playing quietly by himself' bit was the issue we were seeking to address.
The problem stemmed, I think, from a failure to accept that Adam needed special assistance, perhaps underscored by a reluctance to seek outside help in case it was seen as an admission of failure. And we might not have been so persistent if it weren't for the fact that we already had a child with autism - which leads me to wonder how many other children in the nursery whose parents are less well informed are being denied appropriate medical intervention. Because that's what it comes down to - and while, as a parent who's been through the same cycle of denial and defensiveness, I'm aware of how hard it is to admit you don't have all the answers, my sympathy is tempered by the knowledge that doing nothing is far more damaging in the long run.
It makes me consider, too, how lucky we were with Euan, who went to a different nursery and was referred to the educational psychologist by the nursery's manager. Had it not been for her, he might well not have been diagnosed until after he started school. There is a growing body of evidence that early intervention is vital in tackling autism, but unless pre-school education is equipped with the right resources and an understanding mindset, children will continue to be diagnosed too late, or not at all.