Aiden’s parents contacted GTP in the spring of 2014. AT the time, Aiden was attending another childcare center where his days went smoothly until he transitioned to a new classroom. In the classroom Aiden began having tantrums and outbursts, and was spending most of his day in the director’s office. Aiden’s parents felt the classroom size was too large and the teachers inexperienced, but this still did not fully explain the extent of Aiden’s sudden change in behavior and intense anxiety towards school. His parents asked if there was anything we could do for him.
Our first week with Aiden was challenging. He did not want his parents to leave him and when they did, it took the better part of an hour to calm him. Throughout the day he continued to have lengthy outbursts. His tantrums appeared more like panic attacks with rapid breathing and high-pitched tone upon inhalation. He would assume a defensive posture with his hand curled up by his face, his face turned down, avoiding eye contact. He would hum and rock while crying and would become physically aggressive with anyone who tried to help.
During Aiden’s second week, his father called to say he had been trying to get him in the car for two hours without success. Cerise, our director, inquired about the length of their commute and was told it was only a 10-minute drive. She suggested that he get him to school any way he could and we would assist with the rest. Aiden arrived screaming and dressed in pajamas, however, upon arrival we were able to calm him down and get him dressed for school.
Initially, we worked as a team with the family to just get him to the preschool. After failed attempts at offering hugs, blankies, cuddly toys and various other items to Aiden, we focused on learning about each other and understanding what his behavior was telling us. Through one on one conversation with Aiden, we soon learned that he enjoyed drawing and building with blocks. During a conversation with Ms. Denise, he asked her to draw a tree. Aiden began to circle places on the picture that were “safe” or “not safe.” This was very concerning and only intensified our resolve to help this child and his family in any way we could.
Once we succeeded in his morning arrival routine, our next task was transitioning into the classroom. Our goal was to let him know that we would not give up on him. We worked intensively to focus on building a relationship with Aiden, helping him become aware that he was in a safe, nurturing place. We knew this was the first step toward a happy, well-adjusted Aiden. Either Ms. Denise or one of his teachers would remain within close proximity to him, allowing him to regulate his body and to realize we were to keep him safe. This soon resulted in less frequent tantrums.
When the classroom became overwhelming, we would take him for walks around the school and on the playground to observe the other children engaged in activities. When he was calm he would signal to his teacher that he was ready to call his dad. Once dad was on the phone, he would reassure Aiden that he would be there at the end of his day and that it was okay to have fun in the meantime. Aiden would say his goodbyes and return to the classroom.
Aiden spent a great deal of time observing teachers interacting with other children and gradually began to venture out into the classroom to explore and interact with blocks and art materials. Teachers learned that transitions increased Aiden’s anxiety level and they began to give him detailed explanations of each upcoming activity in order to keep him reassured.
When Aiden began occupational therapy with Ms. Kristy, he presented with poor protective responses, difficulty with transitions and difficulty with typical sensory input during the day. Theses behaviors resulted in poor adaptive responses affecting bilateral coordination and postural control, which led to avoidance of typical learning and play experiences, aggression toward others and other maladaptive behaviors. Left untreated, this would have a negative impact on development of bilateral and higher level motor skills and social and cognitive development. He would not lie down for nap or sit in the lunchroom with his friends. Aiden received OT on a weekly basis with work on sensory-motor and reflex activities in addition to using social stories and positive reinforcement to improve his ability to cope with environmental demands without fear, anxiety and negative behavior. Kristy taught his teachers relaxation and massage techniques to help Aiden calm his body at naptime. Aiden now naps easily without one-on-one assistance, eats meals with his friends and transitions between activities easily. Separation anxiety has significantly decreased and his motor skills have improved to within the normal range. He now has coping and calming skills that he is able to use in situations that would have previously resulted in a tantrum. This fall, he was able to transition to new teachers and we anticipate that his transition to kindergarten will be smooth and without any regression of his symptoms of fear and anxiety.
Aiden’s parents remarked that within a few days of attending GTP they noticed a huge difference in his ability to socialize and a decrease in his anxiety level. Additionally, they have seen growth in his academic skills and are constantly surprised at how much he learns. Evening routines have become smoother as well. Aiden’s parents have stated they are comfortable expressing their concerns, that GTP staff have been very accommodating and helpful, and that they feel Growing Together Preschool has made their family happier and stronger.
Aiden still experiences days where he is slow to warm to the idea of going to school. However, he has been able to form relationships with other children and has learned to be empathetic with peers when they are sad or sick. He has gone from being shy and defensive to a gregarious child who is eager to share stories about his garden at home and photos of family vacations with anyone he meets.
We are so happy to have met Aiden and his family and glad they found us in their time of need.