At Maggie’s nursery school (and I have no idea if this is a nation-wide document or just her school) they have something called an “individualized learning plan” for students who have specific developmental areas on which we want to focus. For Maggie, this means the development of gross motor skills, fine motor skills, and the idea of give-take/turn-taking/other social activities. Her occupational therapist and speech therapist are advocates of play therapy and natural learning environments, and have sent packets of ideas and info to us and the school to implement. This is beneficial, because while she sees the actual therapists rarely, we can ensure that every activity we gently direct her toward has meaningful purpose in her development.
In layman’s terms? Maggie’s ILP is basically this: be a kid, and be a kid as hard as you can.
There’s a climbing tree at school, and a few other tall climbing structures. Climb that tree. There are board games to play and scenarios to play pretend with other children. Play those games. Play pretend. Fine motor enhanced by jigsaw puzzles, stamping, and learning independent care in the practical Montessori environment? Do those puzzles. Make any art you can. Learn to clean and tidy.
Except now, that’s all in a learning plan. It’s a binding document with set goals. Do you know how cool this is? There is, in writing, a statement that says she HAS to climb and have fun and that everything, everything that is fun about being a kid is now a mandated part of her education.
In this age of standardized testing, homework in kindergarten, climbing obesity rates, children becoming literally addicted to screen devices, I find myself so grateful. Grateful for this amazing nursery school, through which she can attend Reception Year, grateful for the funding they’ve found for a one-on-one aide to make sure she meets all her daily goals–climbing the tree! Playing games! Creating and pretending!–while under loving care. Reading, writing, arithmetic…those are all essential, but can come later.
I’m grateful that with her diagnosis, this plan has come together, and I’m grateful, increasingly, for the diagnosis that made it possible. I’m grateful for autism, because here in this space, before the demands of primary school and the increasingly complex social network there, she is protected. Her childhood, and the good things about being a child, are preserved.
Right now, she is protected from the world by play. And we could not be happier about it.