I had enrolled Lachlan in our local playgroup before his initial assessment, Lachlan was due to start in August 2013, I had spoken to staff when enrolling and explained about Lachlan still not speaking and that we were waiting on assessments, after the EYCAT assessment I had to make the call explaining that Lachlan’s problems were much bigger than we had realised, it was agreed Lachlan would start playgroup 7 months earlier than intended 2 afternoons a week in a small group of 2-3 year olds, the idea was Lachlan would have time to get to know playgroup the staff and children and for them to get to know Lachlan it was also hoped that in time learn to be away from Ian and I.
I think it fair to say that on that first afternoon in January both Lachlan and I were completely unprepared and over whelmed, I never realised how traumatic a change starting playgroup was to be for all of us. I came home that day and sobbed for hours vowing never to put either of us through that again, I never realised how hard it would be or how much it could hurt to spend an afternoon playing with other children, my older two had both gone to the same playgroup and I had always loved playing with the other children when my turn on the rota came round, this was not going to be the same, this was the first time Lachlan and I had spent time with children Lachlan’s age in over a year, there it was, suddenly clearer than ever before just how far behind Lachlan was and also how different. The other children could talk, they could eat normal food, they played with each other and they asked questions.
Thankfully our health visitor had foreseen what I hadn’t and called to help pick up the pieces, she helped to convince us to go back the next day and called regularly over the following weeks, sometimes it is not until you find yourself in a situation do you realise how complicated a situation it is or how much is being asked of you or just how much you are asking of others.
It suddenly struck me how vulnerable Lachlan was, I realised I was going to have to place an enormous amount of trust and faith in the playgroup staff, I realised Lachlan was not going to be able to tell me if something was wrong, he was not going to be able to tell someone if he was hurt, or if he needed or wanted something and it terrified me. We were at this point, just about getting by at home, with Lachlan taking us to everything he wanted or pointing and making very determined sounding tones but in an unknown environment that wasn’t going to work.
That first afternoon Lachlan clung to me in playgroup with his hands on his ears we tried to join in but every activity we went to sparked off tears and very stressed sounding goodbyes from Lachlan. The next day was better, the next week worse, Lachlan and I found ourselves on a bit of a roller-coaster of highs and lows over the coming weeks, for every step forward there would be one back, part of the problem was we were all learning, Lachlan was learning how to be somewhere new with other children and adults, the staff were all learning about Lachlan and global developmental delay and the autistic spectrum as was I at home, it was awful due to the lacking services being asked questions about why Lachlan did things or what Lachlan needed and not really knowing the answer.
Reluctantly at the end of February I asked our GP for a referral to be made to Social Work to try and make some headway in terms of support for us all. I will be honest and say at that point I strongly believed Lachlan needed to be in a specialist educational provision, he just didn’t belong in mainstream, it felt a bit like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, no matter how hard we all worked at it, it just wasn’t happening. Lachlan was so stressed all the time, he wouldn’t eat, either wouldn’t sleep or would sleep all the time, wouldn’t wear clothes, was banging his head all the time, I hated seeing him so distressed and miserable.
I called the education department to ask what additional support Lachlan was entitled to and to ask about how to apply for a specialist setting, as Lachlan was not yet 3 he was not entitled to any support at all and Lachlan could only attend a specialist setting if referred there usually after a period of time in mainstream. I arranged for us to visit the SEN nursery 20 miles away from our home, there are only 2 in our region the other is 30 miles away, it was very impressive and everything I could have wanted for Lachlan, they had classes of only 6 children all children had 1:1 care, everything was laid out and designed with additional needs children in mind, there were sensory areas, outdoor areas, there were picture cards everywhere, it felt very right, the children there were just like Lachlan too. I went home and asked again for a placing request to be made for Lachlan we were then dealt the blow that integrated children’s services would never agree to fund a child Lachlan’s age traveling so far in escorted transport plus Lachlan’s needs were not in their eyes great enough to warrant a place. I never was happy with the idea of handing Lachlan over to strangers to get to and from nursery my intention was, had we been offered a place I would escort. It was awful feeling Lachlan didn’t belong anywhere. We had to find a way to make playgroup work.
A huge turning point came when Lachlan’s grandparents bought him a weighted vest, very quickly Lachlan became a much calmer little boy, I will never forget the afternoon he first sat still for more than a minute; Something Special had come on TV and Lachlan had stopped to look, that day for the first time he stayed and watched the whole episode, it was as if before the vest Lachlan couldn’t bear to sit or be still, suddenly Lachlan could concentrate on taking part, suddenly Lachlan and I could do puzzles and play.