So I am coming back to my much neglected self-reflection corner/blog after a pretty long absence. But its been a busy, busy, and very momentous few weeks. So here is what went on:
H and I had a plan. We called it our worst-case-scenario, the most drastic of measures, the last fallback option etc. But as we headed in June and still not a single school where we would care to educate our child had a place for Aiden, we were willing to be more open minded, cast a wider net etc. I was also lucky enough to find a few support groups online, and was able to connect with many parents of neuro-diverse children through this blog. This allowed us to see that the range of options and the type of support available for such children in certain parts of the world is quite profound. We started a rather aggressive research project, got Aiden’s therapists, his teachers, and a few trusted friends and family members involved in the process. By June we had a list of four schools we wanted to visit. Aiden’s reports were emailed, appointments and visits were set up, and a rather ambitious itinerary was chalked up. A long-ish plane and train ride later we were in sunny, albeit rather frigid, seaside setting. H and I were confident that we will have the right school for Aiden at the end of a week. Well we were in for a bit of a surprise.
The first school we visited was set in 600-acres of woodland, part of which had been converted in to a Forest School. There is a lot of fresh, evidence based research that indicates that Forest Schools are wonderful in plugging up the emotional, social, and communicative deficits in young children. The staff was amazing. They said all the right things: “Aiden doesn’t have anything we have not seen and dealt with before”, “We have had a number of children with similar issues and with support they have flourished”, “Our staff is fully trained to provide the right type of learning environment”. We were elated, these were things we had never dreamt of hearing in our current home city. There was this general feeling that Aiden is no extraordinary outlier and there was no need to hedge and sugar coat the extent of his needs. So far so good. But then we had a rather unexpected twist of events in the person of assertive Little Miss H.
An Aside: Miss H is a very interesting child. She is 6 going on 33. That has been her preferred age for a while now. Extraordinarily clever, somewhat socially awkward, supremely chatty with no social filters, and very very opinionated and stubborn. I will have to confess this lovely trait she gets from her mother. Sigh. We cant all be perfect now. Miss H has got certain ideas that are set in stone. One of them is that she will finish KS2 in her current primary school. And no, you cannot change this fact. We had been worried about how she will take the prospect of such a huge change. I, with my usual bluster, had decided that she will just have to get on with it. Mr H was more sensitive to her emotional state (as always, he’s much better tuned to the children’s emotional needs).
So the curveball we got thrown was rather severe: Miss H refused to take a tour of the school, refused all attempts by the lovely teachers to involve her in the classroom, refused to be excited about anything and everything. Scarily she was not in a sulk. She was in her 33-year-old-woman mode: matter of fact and decisive. Sat herself down on a bench with her Daddy and declared she’s going back home, staying in her current school till Year 6, living with her Dad. And if Aiden has needs that cant be met at home, well he can bloody well come to this forest school place with Mummy, Herself not having any of it, thank you very much. Now these reasons, from her perspective, are perfect valid and legitimate. You just never want to be that parent who had to make a decision that may involve putting the well being of one child over that of their sibling(s).
It was a somber experience. We might find a great school but that was not the end of the challenge. We had underestimated the difficulty Miss H would face making such a big move. We, more-so I, had overlooked her needs, both social and academic. The forest school was great for Aiden, bang on target. But it was not the right place for Miss H. And, yes, she had to have a say in this matter. We don’t exactly own her opinions.
The next day a much subdued pair of us made our way to School #2. This had been our top pick and we were quietly nudging Fate to lend us a hand that morning. We had a long chat with the Headmaster and the Head of SEN. They were very good with engaging and busying two rather antsy children while the grown ups had a boring, acronym laden, serious talk. The Headmaster is an energetic, youngish person who is clearly passionate about his school and has a very clear idea of what early education should be: individualised to the child’s needs. This school had an IEP (individual educational plan) for every single pupil. Their philosophy is that each child will flourish and show you their best if they are allowed to learn at their own pace with challenges being offered up at appropriate stages of their learning journey. This was not a school that was aspiring to climb up league tables, offer courses that prepared children for specific exams, taught to the test kind of place. As we toured the school it was interesting that Miss H became more and more engaged and Aiden at one point just reached up and held the Headmaster’s hand. As we left the school that day Miss H told us that this school was absolutely perfect.
So now we finally have places at a school that suits both children. Miss H will be in a very small class where she will get the individual adult attention she craves. She will get the support to really stretch her wings and meet her potential. She’s excited about taking up another instrument while continuing her violin. Aiden will have a personalised support program, he will be slowly eased into the school routine, he’s got very doable and small goals set for him. A speech therapist will work closely with his class teacher to help him establish some communication. His progress will be evaluated in December to see if we need more support that can currently be offered.
So we are cautiously optimistic. Aiden has a school place for September in a small, independent, mainstream school perched on a beautiful windy cliff halfway across the world. A small battle has been won. We have got a first glimpse of real inclusive education is: where a child is not passively punished for his disability, where a child is not denied his right to education because he needs a little bit more, where a child and his family are not locked into a label, don’t have their options whittled down based on some arbitrary elusive criterion. We were able to meet people working in education who actually deserve to be called educators. For the first time in months we have a small reason to be hopeful that we might get some answers, that Aiden has a very good chance of finding the support he needs, has a very good chance of learning to communicate and have a conversation, a very good chance of learning how to interact meaningfully with his peers.
In the meantime life has become a checklist of sorts. Final reports and ITP’s, cat export licenses, pet-friendly temp accommodation, movers’ quotes and schedules, a dividing up of the detritus of 9 years in one place. It’s massively overwhelming. The only way to deal with a change on this scale is to take it one day at a time and hope to hell that you never have to do an international move with young kids and a very old cat ever again!
If you want to read up more on forest schools: forestschools.com and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forest_school_(learning_style)