|‘Letting go’ is hard to do
Sending your child on their first school trip away is an emotional experience, I find. You can’t help but worry about their safety, whether they will enjoy themselves, whether they will cope. It almost seems an unnatural thing to let them go; I mean as parents our instinct is to nurture our children, to love them and protect them. But we know that it is also our role to encourage our children to become independent so that they can eventually navigate their own way in the world.
For some children such as my elder daughter, her progress to increasing independence has been largely straightforward. Eager for adventure away from home she has embraced the opportunities to do sleepovers, school trips and weekends away with Scouts. I have hardly had to worry about her ability to cope though, of course, I have had the usual ‘safety’ worries and have missed her greatly when she has been away.
In contrast, my two younger children have presented me with greater worries. Their readiness and ability to cope with school trips has been made more challenging due to their developmental difficulties. Yet it is as important for them to develop their independence as it is any other child for one day they too will have to navigate the world without me and their dad by their side.
With this in mind, I recently agreed to my younger daughter going on her first big trip away with school. And it was a big trip; a 5 day residential to the South Coast of England (nearly 200 miles away) with class mates she barely gets on with and teachers who I don’t think have a sufficient understanding of her aspergers. I was worried, really worried, not just about the usual things such as safety but the more mundane things that everybody takes for granted. The noise, the crowds, the change in routine, the social interaction with others and the anxiety she gets as a result of these things. Nevertheless she said she wanted to go and so putting on a positive front we prepared her as well as we could – showing her pictures of the places she would visit, discussing what would happen and preparing an itinerary. We even took time helping her to pack her suitcase making sure that we followed the kit list exactly. You see any deviation from what is right is unsettling for my daughter; if its states warm jumpers it means warm jumpers, not sweatshirts. You get the gist.
And so, prepared, packed and ready to go we waved goodbye to our daughter and the rest of her year group. The following five days dragged by and I missed her, we all missed her, but we were able to follow the school trip via the school blog which ironically helped my autistic son cope with the temporary change in our family dynamics. But it was whilst looking at the blog one day that I had my greatest pang of concern for my daughter when I saw a picture of all the children playing on the beach. There sitting on the shingle on her own was my daughter, detached from everybody else, head down, shoulders slumped as she played with the pebbles. She may have been happy to sit on her own of course but nevertheless the picture painfully reminded me of the silent nature of her aspergers, silent because she doesn’t run away and rarely hits out. Still I hadn’t heard from the school and I guessed things must have been OK though something about the picture unsettled me. A sense of loneliness and awkwardness.
A day or two later, it was time to collect her and we found ourselves once again outside the school gates along with all the other parents waiting for our children to come off the school bus. And as each child became reunited with their family, we watched the family hugs, kisses and excited chatter knowing full well this wasn’t something that we would experience. Indeed, when it was our turn, our daughter refused to look at us or talk to us and we walked in silence back to our waiting car. The contrast was painful. In the comfort and safety of our home later on, our daughter opened up and started to talk about some of the things that she did but mostly about how awful her bedroom was and how there were five spiders in it. I was pleased; it didn’t seem so bad after all even if there were five spiders in her room. So I asked her whether she would go on another trip. She replied “No, never again.”
I am at loss as to what to think at the moment. It seems that the trip was difficult for her and one she didn’t enjoy but she is unable to tell us why. It upsets me to think that this was not a positive experience for her and it is obviously something that I’m going to have to mention to the school. Perhaps with more support the trip would have been a better experience or perhaps, quite simply, trips in a large group are just not something she can do.