Lesson 1: In this day and age there are still schools that really don't want kids with special needs. One school told me straight out that they can't accept Matt. Another principal was friendly and smiley until I mentiond "special needs" - her eyes narrowed and she started telling me that the school wouldn't suit Matt because the kids move classrooms alot? What did she mean by that I am not sure? And then she asked if I had heard of about a local special needs school, her message was clear. As she gave me the tour, I told her I didn't think the school was a good fit for Matt. Not because of the school, or the fact that the kids move classrooms alot - but because of her attitude.
It has been hard growing some "rhino hide" to stand strong in the face of people not understanding Matt, and not wanting to understand Matt. And I am coming to realise that they are the ones that are missing out the most.
Lesson 2: There is a difference between tolerance and acceptance. Most of the principals I spoke to were polite and open to discuss how they would include Matt in their school. Their main concern was that Matt's presence wouldn't disrupt the school, the other kids or the teacher - so much of their discussion was about how to ensure this. I thought that this was the best that I could expect, until I came across a remarkable principal. Mrs R seemed excited at the thought of having Matt at the school, she was eager to tell me how the staff would include him, she asked questions that showed me that she understood Matt - and that she really wanted him to flourish. Yes she did speak about how the needs of the other kids also need to be honoured, but she did so in a balanced way. I was moved to tears by the way she embraced Matt's presence at her school. I asked her about her accepting attitude. She explained to me that a number of years ago a mother of a boy with Down Syndrome had approached her to let him come to her school. This was a pioneering move at the time, but Mrs R did so because she couldn't deny any child education. The young boy made a deep impression on her, so much so that she went to do her honours in Special Needs Education. Her compassion and heart shown through her eyes as she told this story.
I thank God for people like Mrs R who are willing to let their hearts grow bigger. I thank God for children like this young boy who have paved the way for Matt. I hope to meet him one day, and his mother, and to thank them.