What’s So Special?

In January Evie started a hard fought place at special school. She attends two days a week. In the beginning (from the second we found out about her Down’s Syndrome diagnosis), the thought of special school terrified me. I thought that mainstream would be the best way. Evie went to mainstream nursery with 1:1 support and thereafter mainstream school. I thought that it would all be ok. That she would cope. That special schools weren’t right for her. Come Year 1 and Evie wasn’t coping full time in mainstream. Her mainstream school (as fab as they are) weren’t able to address what she needed. This resulted in some truly upsetting behaviour for us, for Evie and for the staff. So after a battle of some magnitude, considerable stress and a nigh on breakdown for me, Evie got a place at our chosen Special School.

Within two days at special school Evie was happier than we’ve seen her in a long time.

eve

I was so unbelievably wrong about Special Schools. I know I won’t be the only one to have wrongly judged them. Special schools are awesome places. They are special for a reason. They have exceptional skills to teach their pupils what they need to do to not only survive in this society we live in, but to actually thrive. Society had taught me to fear special schools and what they stood for. Inclusion is something that is pushed by professionals, by LEA’s – it seems to be seen as the optimum aim, the ‘gold standard’. But you know what? It doesn’t actually matter. What matters is that our children and their families are happy. That they do their very best in whatever setting suits them. A child with Down’s syndrome does not fail, if they attend special school. Their parents haven’t let them down. I see so many comments and posts about people saying that their child is ‘managing’ at mainstream, they can last until high school age in that setting. I was one of those people. I wanted Evie to stay in mainstream for as long as possible, to be able to get GCSE’s, to learn to drive, to read and write….the list goes on. I’ve realised that I don’t want Evie to be someone who manages, I want her to be happy. So far she is, well as happy as she ever gets, but that’s an entirely different blog post!

As an aside – Did you know that in the entirety of Cheshire East there are only two special schools that are able to take Evie? Two!!! We had to fight to get her in her local special school. That the LEA and SEN team are so diabolical (I’m not holding back because it’s true) that they caused us a massive amount of stress? I have cried and shouted and lost my temper with them, threatened legal proceedings, been ignored totally. They cited lack of place (NB they’re not actually allowed to say that). More to the point why are there only two schools? Lack of funding.

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6 thoughts on “What’s So Special?

  1. I love your honesty in this post Kirsty. I have had the advantage I suppose of much more exposure to special schools, through work and because Hazel has attended the baby unit at our local one since she was 2 months old. I have struggled with what I perceived as an almost aggressive push towards mainstream not just from LEAs but also from with the DS community. I have felt scared to admit that I would much rather Hazel attended a special school when her time comes – though of course it’s too early to say if that will be best. We are very fortunate where I live to have a number of special schools that are all good and I am hopeful that I won’t have anywhere near the struggle you have had to get Evie’s needs properly addressed. So pleased she loves her new school x

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  2. The most appealing thing about Special Schools is the diversified curriculum-taking the curriculum and adjusting it to fit a particular child.I actually think all schools should have this,at secondary level in particular the National Curriculum’s expectations(on staff,school and pupils)is setting many of our young people up to fail,if their needs,learning styles and academic ability doesn’t fir the “norm”.
    All schools should be ‘special’ in their focus.
    I had all the same misgivings you did,leftover nonsense from the days where children were “looked after”and “occupied”in Special Schools-not taught.Thank the Lord those days are over and our lovely girls are benefitting.

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  3. Abi is happier than she has ever been now she attends special school. Society pushed and persuaded me to keep her in mainstream throughout primary because ‘the other children need to get used to people like her and she needs to get used to them etc etc.

    At first it was fine but as they grew and developed the gap between her and them got wider and wider to a point of almost isolation, not necessarily deliberate, but just because of the massive difference of interests (boys, bands and fashion vs puppies, kittens and teddies). By year 5 this was particularly miserable and stressful for her without even understanding why. She became withdrawn and difficult and resorted to sitting in class making animal noises when she was particularly distressed.

    This has all changed. She has been at the Meadows in Leek for 4 years now and is back to being the bundle of joy she was as a toddler. Not that we reached that stage when we should have done but hey ho! They have nurtured and accepted her for who she is. The animal noises and distress have all melted away. She has FRIENDS. She goes to their houses and they come to ours. Bit scary when they get left at the door and you haven’t got a clue what the other child’s needs are, but hey we get by!

    All of these children burst with childlike enthusiasm for life without the jaded skepticism the rest of us enjoy. They have no fears and see the best in everything and everyone. One of my biggest fears because this makes the vulnerable. They are not invincible and not everyone is kind and to be trusted. Their world is a wonderful place to be but as a parent from the outside it is scary to worry where this trust will take them in the future. I do not want to be the one to burst this bubble that the world and everyone in it is wonderful, but at some point she, and others like her, will have to find out that not everyone is as kind and as trustworthy as they are. I fear for her safety but I cannot watch her every moment of everyday. She needs to have independence. She is a teenager as she keeps telling me. She doesn’t understand that she cannot trust strangers and should not go off with them, even if they have got a puppy or chocolate. I fear for her future, the day she leaves home, the stranger that knocks on her door and she lets in…..

    She is the kindest person I know.

    Rant over. Or should that be ramble. Sorry Kirsty the reply is as long as the original blog! xx

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