2016 marks the last year of primary school for Jenna. It was hoped that this would be a year to fully prepare for high school. The concept was, we would introduce her to multiple teachers, larger lesson sizes and a variety of different peer groups. We had planned that the introduction to a vast array of classes, more complex timetables and different teachers (specialist) i.e. Language, music and the arts would be a fantastic platform to high school life.
Academically this was a huge win for Jenna, she was progressing well and for the first time in her schooling journey received a pass mark for the majority of core subjects (English, Science, Math.)
Although, to our regret the cost of academia was a reduction in school based supports; this was disastrous for our princess. The progress of the first semester was lost, the wins on her report card forgotten, but more disastrously the want to engage and even attend school had been forfeited.
It took a stint of illness, poor school attendance and a dramatic increase in behaviours for us to ask more questions to the school. By the time we understood the changes that occurred at school (i.e. reduction of support hours, 1:1 teacher aide support etc.), it was too late. Damage already was done, and the trust of the system and teachers had been lost by our princess.
It was again time for a change and to try a different angle.
This lead us to school number two, and soon to be three schools in 2016 for our princess.
Each one had promise:
- School one was close to work.
- School two was close to home.
- School three is in the new community we are moving to next year.
All three schools have advantages, and all gave a promise of better engagement, better friendships, no bullying and improvements in her academic achievements.
Our second school said all the right words, made all the right promises and had a bonus. It was 3 km from home and Jenna’s younger brother attended the school.
Isaac was a huge benefit; he became her protector, the bus monitor and a watchful eye. It’s amazing how much support an eight-year-old boy could be; we were super proud of him, and this made the first few weeks effortless for Jen.
The help of the younger brother, although a chore for him and embarrassment for her was beautiful. It assisted with Jenna’s anxiety levels and meant she didn’t need to worry about ‘big’ things, things like catching a bus home. This simple act brought back again her disability and struggles with simple tasks that everyone takes for granted.
This second school did not have the capacity to cater for the complexity of her needs. Social anxiety, making friends and maintaining grades made impossible due to their limitations. The school had a huge heart, excellent teaching staff, and beautiful ideals. The dream didn’t last; Jenna made friends with the teachers, not the students. Bullying occurred and continued from day one. The hope of finding a perfect fit and a place that was able to accommodate quickly faded. Again we turned to weeks of illness, a return to non-school attendance, and the search again started. School number 3.
Over the past six years, our focus has been mainstream schooling, normalisation and a sense of sameness for our princess. Pushing with everything we had to offer her the ‘same’ education and experiences as her three siblings. We fought, argued and when needed disagreed with the education department for her needs to be met. We discussed the stigma of ‘the naughty kid’ ‘misfit’ ‘trouble maker.’ We wanted the best, and the best in our eyes was the ‘same.’ We continued to make adjustments, exclusions and exceptions in order to keep the elusive dream alive, a normal education.
These past six weeks I have needed to acknowledge again that her disability has limitations, that it takes a team of professionals to educate her, and she will never ‘fit in’ with the crowd or hit those elusive benchmarks that every parent awaits. I needed to grieve again for what of could have been and continue to ask the same questions that I kept avoiding.
- What does the future hold?
- What will her normal be?
- What’s best for her?
I’ve come to the realisation that I needed her to be valued for her ability, individually and interdependently. She did not need to be benchmarked against other students, already established milestones or community expectations, etc. I needed to benchmark her on her capabilities, goals and desires. There needed to be an individual approach, one that was developed for Jen, and her alone.
Two weeks ago I was posed with a question, mainstream schooling verse attending the special education unit (SEP.) I chose the SEP; I selected a stream of education that will focus on life skills, core competencies and relationship building. We have a new plan, a plan to overcome anxiety, to daily learn new skills, to slowly feel comfortable in the community and to make lifelong friends. We have a new path, a new direction and a future that again looks promising and exciting for our princess.
But still I am learning to step back when needed and push/advocate for better. Never being satisfied with expected norms, always dreaming for better, always being challenged to allow her to fail, learn and try.
It’s lifelong learning, and each day is an adventure, an adventure of the possibilities that await our princess.
And we celebrate little wins daily : learning to cook Mac and cheese, scrambled eggs and cheese and bacon pastry puffs, just a few wins this month.
New fascinations: slime, drawings, printing, birthdays (and numbers in general.)
Its always an adventure, and always exhausting, but so worth the ride.