Did I say Littlest Wombat seems to have settled in reasonably well at school? How foolish. I jinxed myself. The first few mornings of the new term have been nothing if not nightmarish. A week might be a long time in politics but it seems an age in Wombat world. Have we really only been back at school for four days? It feels like Term 2 started a month ago.

The first week of term was bookended by challenging behaviours from two Wombats. My patience was severely tested and found wanting. My Wombats’ social and communication skills were also tested and found wanting. Nothing new in either of those, I suppose.  As my Dancing Wombat daughter delightfully summed it up on Thursday night (after things had calmed down): “I wasn’t irate!”

Get the subtext? Just about everyone else was!

Dancing Wombat and Train Wombat began school happily on Monday. Free running Wombat and Littlest Wombat had the joy of an extra day hanging around in their PJs, and a special lunch with Grandma. But then came Tuesday morning.

I went into Littlest Wombat’s room to start the process of rousing him. He has been sleeping on the floor for the last few nights, in a makeshift tent. I had to crawl in carefully so as not to pull the tent down, before I could wake him. Then the fun (not) began.

You pick your battles, don’t you. Sometimes practicalities have to come before principles.

He huddled deeper under his doona, and grumped. “I’m NOT going to school until you send me back to my old school.”

My heart sank. Oh no. Not this. I thought he’d managed to put his old school behind him, in the archives of happy memories. Clearly not this morning. I reflected briefly. Had it been a mistake to let him catch up with old school friends over the holidays?

“Sweetheart, you have to go to school today. You’ll see all your new friends.”

Louder, and more belligerently: “I told you, I’m NOT GOING until you send me back to my old school.”

Brother. We don’t have time for this. I’m only half dressed, and still have two lunches to cut – despite having been up since 6am.

“Well, you just have to get up, darling.”

Cue gritted teeth and dragging him out of bed. Why did he have to be on the floor in his tent this morning of all mornings? It would have been so much easier to lift him out of bed. And I hate manhandling my children. Predictably, the yells began.

I carried him into the family room, where his uniform was set out. It goes against much of what I believe in, but we have found this little Wombat is more settled if he dresses in front of the television. And since mornings can be tricky, well, you pick your battles, don’t you. Sometimes practicalities have to come before principles.

Last term, the Teletubbies on our ABC gently smoothed the way, but the schedule has changed (damn – change). Now his choice is the bumptious Yo Kai Watch on Go! With ads. I start undressing him and reach for his school shirt. It’s just beside me, but by the time I pick it up, he has already put his pyjama top back on. I try the bottom half. No luck. Far out. Take a deep breath. And another. Okay, clearly it’s time to take a break, see how the other Wombats are faring and make those sandwiches.

Train Wombat is sleeping through the ruckus, my daughter is floating along in her own little world and Free running Wombat is at the table in his dressing gown (still not dressed?), prudently refraining from saying anything. I finish the sandwiches and return to the couch for Round 2.

Second time lucky. Seated on the couch, pulling PJs off and uniform on, I somehow manage to talk my now teary Wombat around to going to school.

“But I’m going back to my old school tomorrow,” he continued to insist.

I kept my mouth shut. It’s incredibly hard not to respond, but prolonging this conversation will get us nowhere.

Somehow we got out of the house on time. I have a strong image of my husband carrying Littlest Wombat to the car and strapping him in while I started the engine. Experience tells me that once he arrives at school and gets busy, he’ll settle down. But this sort of school refusal happened at his old school too. I feel bereft of new ideas for managing it.

Thankfully, once at school, he slid out of the car – no manhandling required – and let me walk him to the classroom, where I gave his teacher a summary of the morning. Best that Mr N is aware of the issues. Maybe Littlest Wombat is still hiding under the table in his mind. (link to New Beginnings blog) Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

I had a bright idea when I arrived early at school for the pick-up. Littlest Wombat had expressed the desire for a new school uniform. We’d kitted him out in his brothers’ hand-me-downs, as you do. But if new uniform helped him to feel that he was fitting in, well, we had to buy it at some stage. I headed to the uniform shop, feeling pleased with myself.

Littlest Wombat was also pleased when he saw what was waiting for him in the car. This had better help, I reflected grimly. Hubby Wombat had to leave early the next morning and would be away overnight. Handling this morning’s behaviour was a two-person job.

I hate losing it. I feel ashamed of myself and feel that I’m not setting a good example. Isn’t the pressure intense?

Tomorrow arrived. The new uniform was neatly named and laid out. And were things better? No. They were worse. Much worse. There was more dragging out of bed. He’s small but gee, dead weights are heavy.  We got him into the family room where he lay on the floor, arms and legs flailing against us as we tried to undress him. Hubby was trying to pull off the pyjama pants, but Littlest Wombat was coming with them.

I suddenly thought his head was about to be lifted off the floor and crash back down. That was the last thing we needed. I panicked and screamed. Not shouted or yelled, actually screamed, “Stop! He’s going to hit his head!”

Hubby disagreed, but stopped anyway. I could feel the stress bubbling away in me like lava in a volcano about to erupt. “I HATE autism!” I half sobbed, half screamed into the couch cushions. I had to get it out, but managed to muffle the last word so no one could understand me.

I moved away from the couch to try and collect myself. Then I immediately apologised to everyone. After all, I am the adult. I hate losing it. I feel ashamed of myself and feel that I’m not setting a good example. Isn’t the pressure intense? Trying to be calm and rational and not lose it in situations of great stress only puts more pressure on us.

We managed to get Littlest Wombat dressed. I apologised to him, and tried not to add the “But”. As in, “I’m sorry for screaming and for getting angry, but if you had only got out of bed, got dressed, etc… it wouldn’t have happened.”

Eventually he was at the table eating, and crying to his Free running brother about how everything would have been all right if he was only back at his old school.

“Well, sweetheart,” I reminded him, “You might not remember, but there were at least three times when I actually carried you to school at the beginning of term because you didn’t want to go.”

I couldn’t help wondering how much Train Wombat’s jaundiced view of the school had influenced his younger brother’s perspective. How can you not be influenced by attitudes and opinions around you?

That evening, Littlest Wombat and I had a chat before bed. I thought carefully about what approach I’d use to try and keep things neutral.

“Do you want to sleep in your tent tonight, darling?”

He nodded.

“Well, in that case, you have to get up when I come to get you. You can’t make a fuss like the Tasmanian Devil in the Loony Tunes cartoons.” I made an appropriate noise, shook my head and waved my hands around.

He laughed, then solemnly promised me that he would get up well the following morning, without fussing. Well, we could only wait and see, but it was a positive conversation.

The next morning, he was as good as his word. Phew. Maybe he was developing a new perspective as the term was getting underway. Then again…

I saw him at lunchtime at the school sports carnival. He was chatting cheerfully with some classmates. That looked positive.

“Hi Mummy!” he called. “Can you get me an ice cream?”

There was an ice cream van a little way away, next to the ubiquitous sausage sizzle.

“It’s the end of lunch. I don’t see any of your friends with an ice cream,” I commented.

“That’s because we’re not allowed to go over by ourselves. Only Middle School students can,” he told me.

“Okay, so next year when you’re in Middle School, you’ll be able to buy your own ice cream. That’ll be good, won’t it? And I’ll buy you one after the sports have finished.”

He looked at me earnestly. “Please tell me that I’m going back to my old school next year.”

I returned his gaze. “I can’t talk about that right now. Look, your class is moving to the next activity.”

All the spark drained out of him. Head drooping and shoulders slumped, he slouched away to rejoin his classmates. So much for things being settled.

Change will be a constant for Littlest Wombat as it is for all of us, so it’s up to me and all those who work with him and love him to help him develop strategies to deal with it. We’ve tried:

  • talking to him about how everyone changes schools at some time: that didn’t work, because he moved before some of his friends. I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve had this conversation, and the result is always the same. Logic rarely wins over emotion
  • getting the new uniform: it might help in the medium term if he feels like he physically blends in – the jury’s still out. However, it certainly didn’t help in the very short term
  • not talking to him about his day when he comes home, in case it brings up the one negative thing in a day full of positives: not sure how this is going, but I don’t think it’s hurting; and finally
  • just plugging away, acknowledging that change can be difficult but there are lots of good things about his new school and he’ll feel more settled once he makes some new friends. Memo to self – get the address list and start making some play dates.

Watch this space.