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“Joshua was in pieces on his first day of nursery. Holding his eight-month-old brother in my arms, I was desperately trying to console him as he lay on the car park ground completely beside himself.
“Yet I knew this nursery was the right place for him and that we just had to get him through the door. He was more than ready, and I knew that once he was in, he would never look back.”
The health visitor first picked up on Joshy's spinning and flitting eye movements at 11-months-old. But being her first child, his mother Carla Segal did not initially see these behaviours as “anything different”.
It wasn’t until after his third birthday, in October 2015, that Joshy was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and “by then we could see more problems” said Ms Segal, “particularly with his lack of speech, melt downs, getting upset at loud noises and being shy.”
A year on, Joshy is a fun and loving four-year-old, full of energy and eager to be everyone’s friend. He started Little Lions Pre-School & Nursery two years ago, attending for one hour a day, before gradually building up to his current 15 hours per week.
“Since starting at the nursery he has become a different child,” said Ms Segal. “At first, he struggled to make friends, he had no concept of his own and others’ emotions, and if a child approached him to play, he would just walk away. It was really sad to see. But he is now showing signs of being well above the national average academically and is reading books for children aged six to seven.”
His parents have nothing but praise for the nursery which has helped to give Joshy “the best possible start in life”.
Sarah Heywood and Jo Rochford, who own and manage Little Lions, said: “We started by building up Joshua’s day at nursery slowly. This was effective as we could monitor his energy levels and when he was getting tired. It wasn’t until further down the line that we introduced more strategies and structures for him, such as: now and next boards, time lines and 1:1 sessions.
'We follow Joshy’s lead with his own rituals'
“We follow Joshy’s lead with his own rituals and enable him to complete them as and when he needs to. His recent struggle has been to put his coat on when we go out into the garden. Through time, persistence and scripts, he has now accepted that he has to wear his coat if he is going outside.”
The worries and fears the Segal family had for Joshua starting nursery are not uncommon and mirror those of countless parents.
According to Ambitious about Autism, there are around 100,000 children with autism in the UK, with four times as many boys diagnosed than girls.
Children on the autism spectrum exhibit a wide range of behaviours, including: difficulty relating to others and understanding unwritten rules, difficulty in communicating and difficulty with thinking flexibly.
It is advised that the introduction to a nursery is as gradual for children on the autism spectrum as possible. Before their first visit, parents are encouraged to show their child photographs of the nursery, arrange for staff to visit the child at home, and ensure staff have a name badge with a photo for easy recognition.
Advice for parents of autistic children
Ms Segal’s advice to parents is to “go with your heart with the setting you feel is right - really talk openly about your child’s needs and find a nursery that will give you the time to speak to you about all your concerns.”
She said: “Joshy has come on so much in the past six months, we can’t believe the difference in him. Little Lions Pre-school and Nursery has absolutely changed him and helped him to become the special little boy that he is today!”
Ms Heywood and Ms Rochford added: “We are so proud of all the achievements Joshua has made and feel privileged to have been a part of his journey so far. He has grown from an anxious, nervous child into a happy, confident little boy who has developed his own unique and funny personality.”
Little Lions Pre-school and Nursery was rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted in March last year.