Thursday, January 3, 2013

The transition to school plan- part 4- The safe hiding space

If you have been following this blog for a while you will know that my 5 year old Autistic daughter, "MissG", is off to school in a few weeks to attend Kindergarten in a mainstream class setting. We have been doing lots of preparation over the past 6 months (you can find posts on this topic by searching "transition to school" using the search function at the top right of the blog).

You will also be aware that due to the NSW Governments cuts to disability support funding, and despite extensive efforts on my part and the part of The School Principal, she will not be entitled to any individual support funding. This is disappointing to me, as it was individual funding that made such a difference to my older sons success in Primary School, and because in MissG's case there is danger of her running away and hiding when she is experiencing stress or Sensory Overload. When I say "danger of", I mean she WILL run away and hide when she is experiencing stress or Sensory Overload ( for a bit more on Sensory Overload click here). Even after being made aware of this, the Department of Education still does not feel she has "high enough support needs" to warrant an allocation of individual funding.

So it is left to the school and I to manage with no help. The School Principal, being the wonderful and supportive man he is, has assured me he will find money from his general budget to ensure MissG gets the support he needs. He is considering MissG's teacher allocation very carefully, as well as what classmates she will be best placed with. I cannot tell you what a relief it is to have such a professional, dedicated and compassionate man leading the team at my kids school! Were it not for people like him and his staff, mainstream schooling would not be an option for my girl, especially when the funding providers and policy makers at government level has such a disregard for kids with extra support needs.

MissG's Psychologist and I have been working for some months now on helping MissG develop the skills she will need next year, both social skills and general coping strategies. Autism itself is tricky enough to manage in a mainstream classroom, but with the additional diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder in the mix, there are some extra challenges to prepare her for.

As I mentioned, MissG will run and hide if she is stressed or experiencing Sensory Overload. The main strategy we have been working on is to help MissG learn to manage her need for sensory deprivation, or time out, in a safe way. Specifically, teaching her that it is OK to go and hide if she needs to, but she must hide in a designated "Safe Hiding Space" and only after informing a trusted adult that she intends to do so. This is not as easy as saying it once and her being able to do it from then on, unfortunately. Due to the nature of Sensory Overload, she will not always remember to communicate her intentions when she is in the moment of desperately needing some quiet to be able to re-establish her equilibrium.

 So- this is what we are doing.

These are MissG's "Hiding Tokens". She likes dogs very much, and at her preschool there was a Golden Retriever who was a regular visitor that MissG had a special bond with. She finds the thought of this dog very calming. So we have used Golden Retrievers as the Image associated with her "Safe Hiding Space". MissG will wear a token on her clothes, clipped on with a clip she can easily manage to open and close herself. When she needs to get away and hide she is to unclip the token from her clothes and give it to a trusted adult (at home this is her Dad or I, at school it will be the nearest teacher). Once the adult acknowledge the receipt of the token, she is free to go to the designated "Safe Hiding Space". If it is not appropriate for her to do this at the time, the adult will need to have an alternative for her to use that is manageable- a distraction of some sort (lets go together and get a drink to help you feel better then you can tell me what is wrong), but it must keep in mind that she will be unlikely to be able to express what is wrong until she has had a few minutes (at least) to calm down.

The designated "Safe Hiding Space" will display the same dog picture that is on the tokens. Here you can see the one we have set up at home on her bed.

Also in the "Safe Hiding Space" is a toy dog that was bought for MissG by her preschool teacher. It is the same as her favourite toy dog at preschool, and is very special to MissG (I am planing to buy a few more of these next time I am at Ikea!!). You can see here the toy dog sitting on her bed, where it lives and waits to keep MissG company when she needs it.

This picture shows what the "Safe Hiding Space" at home looks like when MissG is using it. It is just a curtain hung from the rail of the top bunk that when she wants to hide MissG can easily pull across to create a hiding space that she can sit in without anyone seeing her. When she has the curtain pulled across we all know she doesn't want to be disturbed or to have to speak. When she feels better she can come out, push the curtain back and come back to the adult she left the token with to get it back. This gives the adult an opportunity to ask her if she needs help with anything.

The school will need to find an appropriate place to use as a "Safe Hiding Place" that works for both them and MissG, and they have already expressed their willingness to do so. So we will practice this at home over the next few weeks, and the school will use the same method (have I mentioned how great the staff at our school are?!)

Now, I need to point out that this is not a strategy that MissG needs to use every day. In fact, at the moment, she doesn't even need it every week. However, as hiding is a behaviour we have seen many times in the past, particularly during times of high stress, it would be foolish of us not to plan for it when we know she will be entering a period of high stress when she goes to school for the first time, probably in the same week as she is going to become a big sister for the first time! If we can help MissG learn to use this strategy well, it could very easily avoid an incident of the school staff "losing" her from the classroom or playground. It also helps MissG to learn about the importance of communicating her needs and about ways to keep herself safe.

I still feel nervous about the run and hide issue, but we are doing all we can to help MissG with it. The school is aware and strategies are in place. Now we just have to hope for the best.


  1. That's a brilliant solution! I hope it works well for her.

    When I was MissG's age, I spent an awful lot of time hiding under the table at pre-school. Because less was known about autism back then (1972) I didn't have a proper diagnosis. Everyone knew there was "something" about me -- how many children hide under the table and bite anyone who tries to drag them out to interact with the other children? But no one knew what so there wasn't the same level of understanding and there weren't the same sorts of accommodations kids are able to get today.

    So . . . speaking as a "former MissG" . . . I would have LOVED the arrangement you've come up with to allow her to hide when things get overwhelming! I think I might have even been brave enough to spend more time around the other kids if I knew it was okay to go hide when I couldn't handle it.

    I'm looking forward to more stories of MissG and how things are working out for all of you.

    1. Thanks for those comments! I love hearing from people who understand what my kids are experiencing and getting feedback! I enjoyed reading your blog tonight too :-)

  2. I just simply love this! Thank you so much for putting me onto this Michelle. You are just brilliant!


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