Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Being different

One thing I didn't expect about Matt's first week of school was how emotionally taxing it would be for me. I was so focussed on getting to the day of starting school, that I didn't give much thought to the days that would follow.

Matt has been very content at school, and his teacher and the teaching assistant have consistently given me satisfactory reports at the end of each day.

The turmoil has been within me - and not with Matt at all.

In this new setting, where Matt is surrounded by a whole new bunch of kids, the differences in their development and Matt's stands out starkly. At first I felt this rising sense of panic that he wouldn't fit in nor would he be able to keep up. Every morning I get to hang out with Matt in his classroom for a quarter of an hour or so, and I would watch the other children chatting away, expressing sophisticated thoughts on matters. Little girls negotiating the subtleties of preprimary school relationships. Little boys eagerly constructing things and getting creative with playdough.

Every new season for Matt requires that Lloyd and I face the reality that he is different, and is hard. Because with difference comes vulnerability; the potential of being hurt. As he settles into his new environment, finds his place, and as others start to understand him; and finally appreciate him, then the pain of his differences goes away. And for the rest of that season we live with joy and appreciation for the love the Matt receives, and for the progress he makes. In a new environment, it feels like we have to start from scratch. I wasn't expecting it to be as unsettling as it was.

I have also had to grapple with this concept of inclusion. I had to realise that inclusion is all about including someone who is different. The aim is not to make them the same as other the children - because if they could do the same things, they wouldn't have special needs. Inclusion is also more than a warm acceptance of a child who is differnt. It is also about recognising the differences, and making adjustments in the environment to allow this child to participate fully. It is about celebrating those differences, recognising that those differences add a richness to the school community.

So, through shedding some tears, through some desperate prayers, and through some helpful chats with Lloyd and a couple of good friends, I think I have come to the place where I can say once more that I am ok with Matt's differences. I am no longer thinking up crazy plans to try to make it seem as though he is the same as the others. Rather I am thinking up clever plans that can make this inclusion thing work. But I know I can't do it by myself. I am thankful that the principal and the teachers are eager partners. My first step, is to learn more about this whole thing called inclusion. Watch this space as I process my learnings on this subject.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I just love this photo

A giant step

Last week Friday 13th January, Matt started in a main stream preprimary school.

This is the comment that I posted on Facebook that morning.

Matt started pre-primary school this morning in a mainstream school. Feels like a giant step for me. But for him it is just his next step in a series of steps, each of which have exceed his mother's expectations. To think when he was born I didn't know if he would b eva b able to walk, talk or eat solid foods!

To this I received 67 LIKES and 33 comments.

This was not because we are widly popular, but because so many of our friends and family recognised the momentous occasion. After Matt's first day  of school was behind me I felt a very strong emotion  - that sense of accomplishment one feels after an event or date one has been working towards for a long time. I have had that feeling before...the day of my wedding...the day I graduated from university.

But enough about me. Matt met his teacher who showed him where his locker is and showed him the toilet and his own towel. Then he was introduced to his classroom. I got to hang out with him in his classroom for 30 minutes; exploring the different activities. The bell went, and all the kids sat in a circle. Matt was happy to join them. Gave me a kiss and a wave. Off I went with my heart in my throat. Returning at the end of the morning, I was told Matt was happy, and spent the time exploring his new environment.

In the car on the way home, I asked Matt what he did in his new school. "Play in sand" was his reply, and asked what else he did "drum" he said with a smile.

PS/ We were too emotionally on edge that we forgot to capture this big step on camera. Will address that oversight soon.