The word ‘education’ always conjures up a mixture of emotions for me. I have felt fear, joy, anxiety, hope, confusion, pride, frustration, empathy, isolation, happiness, shame, faith, guilt, love, jealousy, gratefulness, outrage at injustice, belief, helplessness, respect, overwhelming stress, grace, humiliation, kindness, embarrassment, help, depression, rejection and forgiveness.
A bright start
We adopted our child when she was two and a half years old. We started her education journey at Butterflies Montessori Pre-school, a place where the child is put first, where their emotional needs and the stage they are at is met and where children feel safe and secure. At this pre-school, my daughter blossomed and thrived. The Montessori Philosophy is based on supporting the complete development of the child as they progress. There is structure, movement and choice and learning through hands-on experience. Children can progress at their own pace, according to their own abilities, moving on once they feel secure in an area or activity. Children learn to develop concentration, self-discipline and a love of learning. If only she could have spent her entire education in this environment.
Meeting multiple challenges along the journey
As her education has progressed, we hit many challenges along the way. School staff would say “Oh, all children do that”. People would stare when our child would flop and fall to the ground as soon as she saw us. Children would have to climb over her to leave the classroom whilst I sat there on the floor with her, trying my best to connect and comfort her. It took three years and countless meetings, emails, letters, and book recommendations for the school to understand the benefit of an early pick up and allowing her to be first out of the door or first in the queue for anything. We worked hard to develop the school’s understanding of the benefit of a key attachment figure. They needed to understand ‘masking’; comments of “Oh, she has such a lovely smile”, not realising this was a key part of her armour, used so people pass her by or to reel them in depending on what her internal working state was at any given time.
Thankfully, we have gone from our child not being able to transition into her new primary school, to being able to walk in with her key person and walk out at the end of the day with her key person. She no longer falls on the floor when she sees me and no longer has children stepping over her when they leave the classroom. However, it took us three years to get to this point.
The support we needed
During the most challenging of times, I learnt that apart from a handful of friends who were there for us, and would listen unconditionally without comment or judgement, most people just don’t ‘get it’. It was so helpful to have the support of other adoptive parents that we had got to know through We Are Family, to share experiences and empathise with. I remember wondering how parents without this support cope when they feel undermined, ‘out of their depth’ and unconfident when dealing with schools. I decided to put myself forwards as a school governor to try an effect change from the inside. It still was a fight but at least as I was linked to into inclusion work and I could have more in depth conversations with the SenCo.
A school that understands
Now at a new school, our daughter can walk in on her own and all the way round the back of the school to her classroom. We never thought we would see the day that this happened. We chose the school because I liked how they had 3 different SEN rooms; a sensory room, a sunshine room and an acorn room, all for the varying needs of the children, and they understood the language to use. They listened to what I had to say and still do, we discuss her needs and she has a team of key adults. They just ‘get it’. Her teacher rang me one day as our daughter had hit another child. She said she had a chat with our daughter, after she had visited the sensory room after the incident, and had let her know she understood our daughter may be feeling anxious or scared and that may have been why she hit out. I was on the other end of the phone thinking, “Thank God, they get it!”. If a school understands your child it makes the journey easier. All we want is for our child to be accepted and to get an education. It’s her right and it certainly isn’t rocket science!
It has been a long hard journey, but our child now has a high level EHCP with needs across several areas and is in the right school for her, she also has ongoing therapy. Our child is two years behind, but she has fantastic ambition and creativity. She had a goal of opening her own cake and ice cream stall and this last year she achieved that, opening a stall outside our home, all Covid safe. It is a pop-up affair at the moment, and she is happy baking, making and selling. We think the future is looking brighter.
It’s a simple sum: Education = Regulation + Relation + Reason + Repair