On Friday I took Pudding to her New School to meet her New Teachers and play with her New Friends. Did you notice all the New in that sentence? Pudding did. She did pretty well, but she was the most anxious I’d seen her in a long time.
The new school is quite a distance away, so I sipped on a hot chocolate on the drive over. Only when I got out did I realize the drink had been leaking on to my top the whole time. I wasn’t going to make a great first impression.
When Pudding gets anxious, she tends to withdraw and disengage. Some children on the spectrum (and some who aren’t) have other ways of expressing their anxiety. It is obviously hard to see a child who becomes aggressive or tearful, but at least you can see that something is amiss.
I, of course, was feeling anxious too. But seeing Pudding’s new teachers pick up on Pudding’s anxiety made me feel calm. If they can read her, I can relax, and focus on other things, like the amount of hot beverage I spilled on myself without noticing.
Pudding’s new teacher had very thoughtfully made her a new book with pictures of her new school, class, playground and teachers. Pudding hung on to that thing like a life raft as a sea of new people, big and small, came to introduce themselves to her. No, she didn’t want to play. No, she wasn’t going to say ‘hi’.
And that was fine. Pudding needs to be comfortable before she can be herself. First impressions don’t matter much to her. That can be a problem for strangers who don’t allow for anxiety. Who makes judgements from isolated incidents that prove that she is antisocial and withdrawn. It isn’t the whole story. It isn’t even a whole chapter. But it can be enough to make some people but the book down.
Back down to just two teachers and us, Pudding relaxed, and even spent some time alone with them. We all agreed that bringing Pudding back another couple of times before the end of term would be beneficial. While this might be the first impression, it wasn’t going to be the last.
And then the teachers mentioned how they’d found this blog. So it wasn’t exactly first impressions any way, not if you could read about our lives for the last couple of years. I finally got over the fact that my top was stained by the persistent thought that several of these people had probably just read my post about nipples! (But artfully done, right?).
Pudding was willing to come back, and really that was the only thing that mattered. My first impressions were of a welcoming, experienced staff, and a caring community- the kind that I’d be happy to return to. Which is just as well, because we were back there today (more on that tomorrow). With someone as beautifully complex as Pudding, you don’t so much judge the book by the cover, as find that you want to keep reading more and more as her story unfolds.