First there is your family to contend with. I'm not talking about your nuclear family, but the grandparents, brothers and sisters, cousins and close friends you leave behind. We viewed our move to England as a grand adventure and a once-in-a-lifetime experience to share with the Bean. He, four months later, still wants to know when we are going back to 'the brown house' where his neighborhood BFF's live back in the States. Every time we get in the car he wants to know which grandparents' house we're going to visit. (Hear that sound? That's my heart breaking.) We do Skype and Google+, but it is still not the same as a hug and a kiss.
I stupidly believed the transition would be easier on the Bean than on us. I thought as long as we were with him, he would roll with the punches and take the move all in stride. To him, I reasoned, it would be like a vacation! He will have tons of fun! He will make new friends! He seemed pretty happy when we were staying in temporary housing on base. He made new friends and liked playing on the playground. He had some toys and a few of his favorite DVD's. He had a little trouble going to bed, but you try sleeping on a fold out sofa with people slamming metal doors all hours of the night and let me know how refreshed you feel in the morning. Then try that for another 30 days. Um, yea. Not so much.
I didn't realize how much he was affected until we tried to put him in a British school. We threw him into "Reception" in the middle of April. This was approximately half way through the semester. Reception is the Brit form of Kindergarten. He'd been in a wonderful school in the states, and I assumed he would be ready to get back to school and meet new friends. Once again, I put the ass in assume.
You have several choices of where to put your child in school. As a member of the military forces, we had the option to place bean in the DOD school on base. You may also wait until you find housing and then enroll your child(ren) into one of the schools in the 'shire' in which you live. The first thing you will have to do (after you finally receive your house goods and locate which box has your sanity packed in it) is find out what your local 'shire' is and contact that office to make a request to enroll your child in one of the local schools. If you try to complete the form online, as I attempted, make sure you are submitting it during the open enrollment period. Disregard the fact that the form is still online and appears to be functioning no matter what point in the school year you attempt to enroll your child. The council will then contact up to three schools and see which school has a spot for your child. We chose a school which was in walking distance to our house and where he would attend the same school as the neighborhood children.
Here is Bean is his spiffy school uniform:
His entrance into the system went over like a lead balloon. By the time we enrolled Bean, all the other Reception students had processed through all the crying, screaming, snot-slinging, separation anxiety part of going to full-time school. They were perfectly fine, after all, they'd had 10 weeks to fall into routine.
It would probably bear mentioning that just before we moved, the Bean was diagnosed as 'on the spectrum' for Autistic behavior. As if that bomb wasn't enough to deal with, before we could get any kind of support system in place or get any therapy started, the second bomb dropped that we were scheduled to transfer to the UK. Great. Not only will we be moving, we will be moving to a place where I am starting in the basement of ground zero. And five hours ahead of any of my familiar support system. But you just put on your big girl pants and deal. By the way, 'pants' are in fact your 'panties' or 'undies', so don't go around talking about your 'pants' and then act surprised when you get a few raised eyebrows and snickers from the locals. And a 'fanny' is not your bottom. Think a little further north. Yep, refrain from saying 'smack your fanny, sit on your fanny or any other statement that involves the word fanny. But the P word? That's just a cute little kitty. Feel free to talk about your pussy all day long. No one will even flinch. I can hardly type that with out feeling dirty!
But I digress.
I advised the school of the Bean's diagnosis, but they informed me they were reticent to accept this information with out performing their own test first. Great! A second opinion of Bean's condition! Well, it would have been great- if (there is always an 'if' right?) they had at this time (8 weeks later..) to actually perform any screening tests. I've had numerous chats with the school, gone to the village General Practitioner's (or surgeon as they are referred to here), filled out evaluation forms and offered to help in any way I could. Short of throwing a full-on, throw-myself-on-the-floor-and-have-a-screaming-and-kicking-fit, I am beyond frustrated. Which, incidentally, is pretty much how Bean's first week went. After his first day, they told me he was having 'issues' transitioning into school. It took every fiber within my being not to say, "No shit? What part of 'Autism Spectrum' didn't you understand properly?"
As a result, he has only attended partial days since then- which is putting him farther and farther behind his class. The semester ends in four weeks, and there is no way he will be able to move up to first year class next term. I am beyond frustrated. If only they had listened to me back in April when we toured the school, or when we had our first meeting, or after the first time they had to call me in after he'd had a meltdown.
The truth is, everybody is 'on the spectrum' to a certain degree. We all have certain quirks. Know anyone who plays with change or keys in their pocked obsessively? Know anyone who has to check the door three times to make sure they've locked it? Know anyone who bounces their leg constantly? A child that will only wear a certain color of shirt? Someone who refuses to let the different foods touch on their plate? Well, those behaviors all fall 'on the spectrum'. The Bean's difficulty rests in his verbal and social skills. He is highly intelligent, so his brain travels at warp speed, but his ability to communicate his thoughts with words travels at snail pace. So, in order to process the overload of information, he flaps,hops and makes a 'mmmmm' sound. He has difficulty transitioning from one activity to another if he has not completed the task he's working on or hasn't finished playing. This behavior makes it difficult for him to function in a super-structured environment. Tack in a whole new country, whole new accents and different phrases, a completely anal-retentive adherence to routine and you've got a prescription for disaster. Most Autistic kids can't handle even the smallest change in their routine, so we pretty much threw the Bean a underhanded curve ball.
Here is a 'tractor' Bean build all by himself:
I think this is pretty fantastic. He is a pretty creative and smart little dude.
So, do I wish I had done more research before we came? You bet. However, I had no idea where we would find a house to rent. You can look on line all day long, but I've learned my lesson the hard way about renting a house site unseen. I want to look at the other houses in the neighborhood, find out if there are any kids close by, where the nearest playground is, and so on and so forth.
I was, and still am, dealing with more than just a transcontinental move. My husband had three surgeries between August and December of last year beginning with a lovely, seven day, all-inclusive stay in the ICU. Roughly at the same time, my mom fractured vertebra in her back and I was 12 hours away dealing with her condition over the phone. Then came Bean's diagnosis. By this point, I was barely hanging on to sanity and a lot of the time I had to tie a knot at the end of my rope just to avoid slipping into the abyss. Some days, I wished it was a noose.
It has taken us some time to get settled. We have been here since March and in our house since April. I have just now gotten all of our boxes unpacked. I am still organizing and moving stuff around the house. I can tell you if feels like we have been here longer than four months. Do I still think this is a wonderful opportunity to enrich our lives and the lives of our child? Without a doubt. Nothing worth doing is ever easy.
SO, in the midst of all my whining and blabbering, I am still having a grand time. We have the uncanny ability, in spite of our circumstances, to land in exactly the right place. We have moved to an incredibly fantastic neighborhood. I can walk to the shops. I can walk to the butcher. There is a duck pond on the way to the playground. Best of all, I really like my neighbors. I have met three extraordinary women who I can call my friends.
What happens now? I will keep working with the school to get Bean the assistance he needs to succeed. I will keep exploring my village and the surrounding areas (thank you Google Navigation phone app) and continue to :
Now I must jump on my scooter and roll up to the butcher's shop to get a loaf of crunchy bread to go with dinner.Yes, I took the Bean with me and, yes, I do have some mad scooter skills.
Until next time....