It’s the day before the start of school and I’m filled with excited anticipation and, to be perfectly honest, I’m also feeling a little relieved. This long summer holiday has been wonderful and filled with happy, sandy and sun-drenched memories, but it’s also been exhausting. Trying to juggle entertaining children, family, fun and work without any ongoing and structured support is hard. But all that is fading now, as my mind drifts towards my feelings around the start of H’s second year at his local primary school.
This year, I’ve met his Year 1 teacher and she’s fantastic. She knows Harry, she’s seen him in class last year – possibly on a good day and certainly on a bad day. She knows what it means to have H in her class and she’s ready.
This time last year, I was filled with anxiety. I had met his teacher, she seemed excellent, but I was still filled with dread. Would she really be happy to have him in her class? Would he even be able to sit still and listen for a second? Would she know how to include him and help him to learn things the way he needed to?
This year I’m excited to see all the lovely school mum (and dad) buddies I’ve made. Yes, we’ve caught up occasionally in the holidays, but I’ve missed our twice-daily chats squeezed in between settling school kids and ensuring library books weren’t left at home. Or sneaking in a coffee and a babycino after school drop off when we’re flying solo with our toddlers.
This time last year, I was petrified. How would they feel about H being in their child’s class; would they accept him, me, our family? Perhaps they all knew each other already from playgroups or kindergym or whatever activities their kids have been going to whilst I’ve been ferrying H between therapy appointments.
This year I’m eagerly awaiting to see who will be all the new and old friends filling up H’s talker and our ears as he chats about them after school. I can’t believe how many people were added to his device last year, some not even in his class or year. Kids that I have no idea who they are, but I know that they are important to Harry; they are his peers, his classmates and his friends.
This time last year I couldn’t sleep. Images of H sitting alone during breaks filled my waking nightmares. What on earth was I thinking? Not only would he be the only kid with a physical disability at his school, he would also be the only kid who uses a talker. In amongst all these differences, would there be any children who would see the similarities, see past the equipment to the funny, cheeky and friendly boy within?
Boy, am I glad it is no longer this time last year.
Last year, H’s teacher certainly was happy to have him in her class, he did sit still and she did know how to include and teach him to ensure that he learnt and thrived.
Last year, the other school parents not only accepted us, they embraced us and we never felt excluded.
Last year, H made friends, real friends. Friends he may well know his whole life. Friends who accept him just as he is.
Last year at school was wonderful but, make no mistake, it was also challenging, tiring and time-consuming. However, one year on and I know we made the right decision for him, for our family and for our community.
So, a word of comfort and solidarity to all the other parents out there who, today, are filled with anxiety, fear and perhaps even second guessing your decision to send your child with a disability to a mainstream school. Please remember, our kids are tougher, braver and brighter than we yet know. The world can be more welcoming than we sometimes allow ourselves to believe and children, unlike us, know how to see past the differences to the similarities inside. You’ve made the right decision, it may not always be the easy one, but it’s the right one.
And this time next year, you too will be remembering, this time last year.