Association La Main à l’Oreille – Antenne Normandie
We are the parents of a wonderful 3 and-a-half-year-old boy.
He is a vivacious, smart, loving, surprising, gracious child… He is also a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, or an “autistic” child if you prefer.
Our young child cried a lot when he was a baby, and very early on dressing and undressing him, changing his diapers, became very difficult. He got very upset.
I remember it took him three weeks to accept the change from the baby seat to the child seat, although he was only a few months old… When he was 15 months old, he started to have big temper tantrums and hit himself, and this worried us a lot.
Observing my increasing discomfort, the pediatrician recommended registering him at a nursery so he could be with other children. At the end of last year, we became very worried about our young son; it looked like he was in a bubble, and we also thought he was deaf. He was clearly avoiding contact with the other kids.
I shared my concerns with the nursery staff. He played by himself there, refusing to join the group activities. After some requested feedbacks and believing it was a problem with him, we consulted a specialist: our son was autistic.
At the nursery he made big improvements, started to join the activities, and also made two friends. We thought about taking him to school, following the CMP (Pedagogical-Medical-Centre) with a rhythm of many hours a week.
A teacher from the nursery contacted me. She couldn’t imagine him at school and was worried by the influence this would have on him. She spoke about The Footbridge, a “Quevillaise” structure, which she thought would be very good for our son, maybe from that moment, as soon as possible. I recognized that I did not take this well at that moment. I didn’t know the Centre, I said to myself: “Why would we want to move him away when he was making progress and feeling comfortable at the nursery?” Were they classifying him because he wasn’t like the others? Were they parking him in a garage? Were we going to put him with other troubled children? Difficult children who nobody wanted anything to do with? Couldn’t he have a place at a normal school? And when he was three-years-old? I was making a mistake, because The Footbridge receives the most “normal” children.
I had a bad opinion of the place without knowing it… On the other hand, I realized that people didn’t know of its existence, and, of course, they knew even less about its vocation!; even those who lived next to it. In sum, I fought for him to stay at the nursery. And I was successful.
I don’t think I made a mistake leaving him there, taking into account that the staff did an incredible job with him. He knew the place well, and continued to make progress until the summer holiday.
When we finally visited the ordinary school, I saw the great difference between the other children and my own. I remembered what the nursery teacher had told me, and did what was necessary to get a place at the Footbridge if he needed it, if the ordinary school didn’t work, because he was too old for the nursery and also for other child activities.
The report for the demand for the Help with School Life (AVS) program was in process, but what I was most afraid of happened. We didn’t get it in time for the start of the school year. We had taken photos of the school, the teacher, the assistant, and put them in our son’s room. We had read books about the school and watched animated films on the subject. We had prepared everything as best we could. Unfortunately, after only 11 hours of classes, we came back one Thursday morning, in the rain: without AVS he couldn’t go back to school, had to leave the class, couldn’t follow the group in their developments. In sum, it was too difficult to deal with him with all the other children too. 15 days of school, 11 hours of classes, months of preparation, hardly three-and-a-half-years-old, and already excluded from the system. I don’t blame anyone. I just state things, that’s all.
However, society has the obligation to offer a place to each one of its citizens.
For our son, and for us his parents, it was extremely important to have a place outside home during his early childhood that could help him not to feel suddenly rejected, and to preserve his achievements. He – who so much needed to open himself up to others, who enjoys the company of children – was obliged to stay home with me. I called The Footbridge, and they said: “Of course, there is a place reserved for your son”. I went on my own to meet the staff and look around the Centre, very afraid that they would tell me that my son was not like the others in school.
And I found there a staff smiling from cheek to cheek, passionate and dedicated. They showed me the different rooms – that immediately seemed to be fitted out for my son – their commitment, their way of working, and the profile of the other children there: too old for the nursery, not ready for the school… They let them get to know each other, find their points of reference in the games room, before introducing the times of activities, of place changes, of meals at table; and later they started to join small sessions in the little infant section of the school, in order to later join an older group. The rhythm of each child is respected, and the rules of collective life introduced little by little. For our son, who precisely needs a lot of time, it was ideal. It was like a soft and sweet immersion into the school world.
Our son adapted quickly to The Footbridge, he soon played with the others and liked going there a lot. The problem for him was the changes of place. Progressively and very sweetly, the Footbridge teacher accompanied him in the following of the small group in the psychomotor room, the playground… In the same way that she does with other “normal” children (although I don’t much like this word). Finally, he now knows how to take his jacket off by himself, is less rigid in the place changes, and follows the group to the different places of the school where The Footbridge is located.
In addition, for an autistic child it is extremely enriching to pass time with children with a more classical mode of functioning. This teaches him a great deal of things at the social level, at the level of the relation with others and even imitation… Our son demands: “Go to the bathroom!” since he has been going to the bathroom with his companions. He observes what the others are doing. And what better for the future of our society than to teach so-called “normal” children that difference exists, and to be in contact with it in everyday childhood! And, even better, to become friends with it!
These two mornings a week when I see our son running happily to the door of The Footbridge, sitting correctly, starting to take his jacket off on his own, entering the games room with a big smile full of confidence, joining his friends, playing with them, laughing!, I experience a feeling of happiness impossible to describe, like being born again. I deeply desire, by means of this testimony, to thank the people who look after him there.
My thanks to the person who gave me advice, and on my part, I can only recommend a place like this to all the parents whose children are of the age to start school, but are still not ready for this, for whatever reason. Don’t doubt it, there are other places, although certainly not enough of them!
Translation into English: Alicia Hadida-Hassan
Revision: Howard Rouse