Using OurBoards for planning the school week
Since we worked out – long before the actual diagnosis eventually came through, obviously – that our son is autistic, we have worked hard to make sure that we are doing whatever we can to make his life as smooth as it can be. One of the first flags for us was around how he struggled to cope with sudden changes in our plans – even those as seemingly unexciting as cancelling a trip to go dress-shopping for a wedding – so it was clear that schedule and routine are important to how he copes with the world.
For any child, getting used to going to school is a huge step and for an autistic child there’s a whole load of other challenges to factor in. So far (he’s currently in Year 2) he’s been in mainstream the whole time, that doesn’t mean it’s been easy for him or smooth sailing the whole time. His school have been great helping him with his additional needs, even though it took two full years of education before he finally got his autism diagnosis, so he’s worn ear defenders since he first started.
However, Year 2 has been more of a struggle, and we’re still getting to grips with why. So far we’ve had a few weeks of real difficulties getting him to go into school at all, with my wife often having to go in with him and then try to escape (literally at times when she’s been there after the school’s been locked up and needed the caretaker to come and help her get out). During that time he often refused to take part in some lessons, hiding under his desk instead.
None of this is what we want for him of course, so we’ve been talking to school about different ways to help him, including letting him have little breaks from the school day to go to a quiet space or run around outside. From our perspective, we’ve been taking advantage of whatever information and resources are available to us as parents of a newly-diagnosed autistic child, while I reached out to Neale from OurBoards, who I was connected to on LinkedIn.
I’d watched his updates about the boards with interest over the years since the diagnosis process was underway, thinking that they might be useful, particularly the visual timetables. So, once we’d finally had it all confirmed, it was time to see if one of these timetables really could help him. It’s been particularly timely that we have started using one around the time when he’s had the most stressful period of his school life so far.
How the board works is that we sit down with him on a Sunday afternoon and have a ritual of him planning the school week ahead on the board, using printed out pictures and words to lay out what he’ll be doing each day, including the timings of going into school and getting picked up again. This includes any additional classes or trips that make up his days, so there’s photos of his ukulele and some Lego for his music lessons and lunchtime Lego Club appointments.
The visual aspect of including these images, which are printed out and attached with the included A8 Gecko Self-Cling Pockets, is hugely important because it helps him process what is to come, something that autistic people can struggle with when they don’t have the visual stimuli. Giving him the ownership of the board is another big factor, giving him a sense of control over his activities and building a routine that he’s comfortable with.
Any weekend or evening adventures we’ve got planned go on there too, and he definitely gains comfort and excitement from doing that.
We’re only a couple of months into using the board and are still learning as we go, which is a theme for everything we are doing to try and help our son navigate the ever-changing landscape of school. We know we won’t always get it right, but it’s so helpful to have tools like the visual timetable from OurBoards to help us help him to help himself.
Planning the school week
Read more about the weekly planning board