So, the time finally arrived earlier this month, (8 days ago to be precise), for my daughter to go to residential college. A specialist college for young adults with varying educational needs, but all meeting the criteria for special educational needs.
My daughter has been wanting to do this for at least the last 4 years, as she sees herself following in her older sister’s footsteps, who went to university. As parents, we have supported my daughter in her wish to do this and although the road was a little rocky, with plenty of assessments, funding for a 3 year course was agreed with residential status during term time and home every college holiday.
Handing over care and support is a bit of a challenge, both practically and emotionally. Obviously I have cared, supported and advocated for my daughter for the last 18 and a half years. I am getting used to the fact that she is no longer a child in the eyes of the LA and health services, and that as an adult she is assessed differently, the criteria for services is different, and I no longer have parental responsibility for her well being.
How do you pass on all the nuances that make you an individual to a complete stranger, trust that they have listened, and have really understood what you have said? How many times do you explain the routines, and likes and dislikes? Knowing that new routines will be developed to meet the college timetable and facilities. Even if you write everything down, this can be interpreted in different ways, and how do you know the documents are even being read?
When we took my daughter to college, her keyworker had supported her on a previous overnight stay, she had remembered some of the little things that are important to my daughter, her interests and engaged with her whilst we unpacked and completed the inventory and wealth of paperwork that needed to be completed, but what about the other staff, who we didn’t meet? How will they interact and support my daughter? As we know, only time will tell.
I must admit, this first weekend has been the worst, my daughter has phoned home several times, sometimes I think as she wants to hear us and chat, others because she doesn’t know what to do. My emotions have been all over the place in response to her calls, from wanting to drive to see her, pick her up, bring her home, to the reality check, that of course it is going to be hard for her away from home, and that she will get used to it. Coming home will not help her get used to this new chapter in her life, or help us in letting go of our responsibilities, and start a new chapter in our lives too. I know our relationship will be different from now on, she will have a life without me, where there will be things she is doing and decisions she is making that I do not know about or can influence. I’m sure some of these will not be what I would have either suggested or promoted, but they will be hers to make and learn from. How else will she know if she doesn’t make mistakes?
The staff will get to know her, and be able to support her to do the activities she enjoys, hopefully introduce her to new ones too. Emotionally, I know she will overcome her anxieties and develop friendships that will give her emotional and social support. I know this is the right step for my daughter, and it is the first step towards an independent life. One where she is supported and cared for by people who are not her family, or PA employed specifically to work with her. I hope that she develops a sense of what she wants her adult life to look like, and when the 3 years are up, she can say how she wants to be supported to live as independently as possible, but for now, we live with the raw emotion and anxiety of being apart for a prolonged period for the first time in her life.