The Skinner Family
Our daughter Francesca is nearly 6 years’ old and she is loving and caring and we think she’s perfect. We have come a very long way in only a few years and it has been very hard. When Francesca was 3 we had a diagnosis of ASD with ADHD. We noticed that she had a very short attention span and was not able to make friends as easily as other children. She was unable to share any toys and had difficulties understanding the personal space of others. She was late to start talking.
For example, we would be in a shopping mall with a kids’ play area, and other little girls would see Francesca and come up to her and ask if she wanted to play with them. Some of the time she was oblivious to them and didn’t want to play. She has never looked like she is special needs and it was hard for other children to approach her, as her response was sometimes not what they were expecting.
Our journey – To begin with, Francesca went to a Jewish nursery attached to our synagogue, but it wasn’t long before we found she had problems. The nursery, although loving and caring of the children did not work with Francesca and could not understand her needs. She ended up playing alone a lot of the time. At that point we didn’t know what to think as she was so little, but we could see something wasn’t right.
After leaving the nursery, Francesca joined a school in Golders Green for nursery. Within the first term we knew there were problems as she could not play well with the other children and would sometimes go for them if they wanted a toy she had or, she wanted the toy they had. We would regularly get phone calls and would dread the phone ringing. The school put in place specific learning targets for Francesca when it became clear that she wasn’t able to progress to the same degree as the other children. It was at this point we asked around for a good doctor to review Francesca to see if there was a learning delay. Once we had the diagnosis of ASD and ADHD our world changed.
The following school years Francesca had similar issues, but it was pre-Reception and the learning was mostly play based. Again, she had different targets to the other children and by this time we knew she was on the spectrum.
On entering Reception her problems really started. Francesca could not keep up with the curriculum and was disruptive, even with her individual plan. The school suggested that she have 1:1 help which was arranged. The 1:1 made a huge difference and the lady we found was kind and understanding and Francesca loved her. Even with the 1:1 it was likely that Francesca could not stay in the school much longer, but as she’d improved with the 1:1 the school thought she might have turned the corner and, as we didn’t have another school for her to go to she stayed. At the end of Reception she moved into Year 1 which was a disaster. Within a couple of week she returned to Reception. Her 1:1 was able to engage her for part of the day but it was a real struggle. It was a blow when we were told that Francesca had regressed markedly on returning to Reception compared to the previous year in Reception. We spoke regularly with the school and they told us that they just couldn’t do any more for her and that she needed a much more nurturing environment. Her school tried very hard and we are grateful for their work with us on getting Francesca to where she needed to be. We started doing some research and we found Gesher and soon afterwards arranged a visit to see the school. When a place came up we jumped at the chance.
Gesher is the right place for Francesca as it combines all the separate therapies she used to have under one roof and, with an OT team who Francesca knows and trusts. It is part of her school day.
We no longer have to coax Francesca out of bed and into her school uniform, and she does not dread going into school. She suffered from terrible anxiety going to her old school as she knew she was different and couldn’t always control her behaviour. She is now very happy most mornings. There is the occasional wobble when dropping her off, but there is no longer crying and screaming for mummy and daddy. We know that Francesca loves being at Gesher because she’s told us so in her own words.
Gesher is a small and friendly school and everyone knows each other. It does not feel remote or distant. As parents we are kept very well informed by the Seesaw learning tool and by regular emails and letters.
We don’t now worry about Francesca falling behind the other children, as she is not in a ‘hot house’ school. The teachers genuinely care about her and are not driven by unattainable academic results.
Over the Easter 2018 school holiday, Francesca attended a camp which she had been to before and was ok at. But, after a few days the camp called us and asked us to take her home, as they could not manage her, as she was antisocial with the other children and it took two out of the three staff just to deal with her, let alone the other children. Francesca was devastated, as she knows she was kicked out of the camp and she cannot return in the summer. She told us she couldn’t stop herself behaving that way but did try. All we can do is be there for her and try and reduce her anxiety about it. If it wasn’t for now being at Gesher, it would have hit her significantly harder. School started a week or two later and she looked forward to that while her younger sister attended the camp.
We are starting to notice changes at home, especially around Francesca realising that she has to participate at Gesher and there is no other option. At her old school, Francesca was used to kicking up a stink and being given a different activity or allowed not to participate. For example, gymnastics where she was allowed to sit and watch because she refused to take part. It was a bit of a shock for her at first, as she was used to being able to get her own way and avoid activities she did not like. At Gesher that doesn’t happen and the teachers know how to deal with this behaviour. Initially Francesca said she didn’t like the school, but we very soon realised why, as she couldn’t get her own way and it wasn’t the ‘Francesca show’ anymore. That has all settled down now and for the most part she participates and realises that is the only way. At home she is slowly getting better at focusing on the task at hand.
Being in a Jewish school means that for each of the festivals, Francesca is learning more about them. In a non-Jewish school it is very hard for the school to acknowledge multiple faiths and many festivals. They would look at Chanukah and Jewish New Year, but not much else, as they also have Christmas, Easter, Diwali and more. Francesca loves learning about the festivals, especially Purim where she can dress up. It is difficult for Francesca to learn about the Jewish faith and festivals, as although our synagogue has learning and many functions for children, Francesca would find it hard to be engaged, as they don’t have the team that Gesher has and the ability to deal with ADHD, and we don’t want to take her as we know there will be issues.
Hopes for the future – We feel much better about the future knowing that Francesca is engaged every day at school and, she is in an environment where all the teachers are able to deal with her and the other children and she does not feel isolated and anxious. We don’t know what the future holds, but even small improvements with Francesca’s behaviour are major wins for us. Francesca is very clever and, if she can apply herself, then she can achieve whatever she wants, which at the moment is to be a scientist.
“My son has only been at Gesher for a couple of months. He is already a different child. I cannot thank Gesher enough they have changed our lives. Such an amazing, understanding and nurturing environment”.
“The progress our son has shown in such a short period of time is nothing short of amazing. We couldn’t be happier with the environment and assistance he is receiving. Everyone who knows him has commented on how much more he is engaging with them and his environment”.
“I adore Gesher! It has saved our family’s quality of life”.
“Gesher is an amazing school, the staff are amazing and the level of care is amazing”.