My son spent the first two of his school years at a Special School. That was where he needed to be. That was where he learnt the skills, and received the immense support that was necessary to get him to where he is today: In a mainstream school.
I have a lot to say about the good and the bad of mainstreaming a high needs child. But this post isn’t about the theories and the perspectives and the myths (you can find those posts in my blog easily enough if you’re interested); this is about my son, and about his own mainstreaming experience.
He’s only had two days of it, but even reaching that point involved more work than I could probably ever make people truly understand. The decision itself was frightening, and making it happen was exhausting. When I walked away from dropping him off in his class on Monday, it felt like a graduation to me, for both me and my son. I didn’t think the day would come, and when it did and I was left standing in that school courtyard, I felt like a band should have been playing to mark the occasion, but it was just one more kid being dropped off at school, and the simple and beautiful ordinariness of that event was itself remarkable in such an extraordinary and difficult life.
Earlier that morning, the School Principal had found me and put her arm around me and gave me the sort of smile that lets you know you and your child are welcome and wanted. Her warmth and passion was one of the most important factors in our decision to go with this school. She is not alone in her awesomeness there either:
The school had arranged for my son to have full-time teacher aide support for his first week, which was so much more than I’d hoped for, and exactly what he needed for a strong start to the year. I had the chance to meet with the room teacher and the teacher aides (three of them would variously be with my son over the week) on Friday, before the school term started. I took their photos to make my son a book, and we all discussed the incredible little boy they were going to meet in a few days. They were all interested, and happy, and calm, and patient, and all the other right adjectives.
At the end of his first day, when I returned to pick him up, I happened upon one of his teacher aides. She told me he’d been fantastic all day, and even asserted his independence; wanting to do tasks without her help. She was impressed with him. And then the bell rang and he came running out to me, so excited that he’d forgotten to get his school bag and shoes, so I sent him back in again and he reappeared, just about shaking with joy.
He told me he loves his new school, and it’s the best school ever, and he wants to go back the next day.
The next morning I had the chance to catch up with his main room teacher, and what she said to me was one of the most lovely things; it was about my son’s main stim. My son has something that I call a “happy dance,” where he flicks his hands and hums and dances from foot to foot when he is very happy and excited. I’d told the teaching team what the behaviour was and what it meant, so it wouldn’t shock or confuse them. When I met up with the teacher that second morning of school, she told me how much she loves his happy dance because it let her know when she was doing something right. It’s so often hard to tell with the other children whether they’re enjoying the task or activity because they won’t tell her or show her how they feel, but there is my son with his happiness written all over his body and face, and she thought that was something wonderful. His happy dance has been the object of derision and confusion and efforts to stamp it out by a couple of therapists, but here was a teacher rejoicing in it as something that made him special in the best meaning of “special.”
I don’t know if she realises how much that means to me, but it means the world; that she sees his difference and enjoys him the more for it.
The school and my son have surpassed my expectations, and all the hard work to get to this point was worth it. Whatever happens next, the right foundations are in place. Mainstreaming has begun, and so far, it’s a beautiful thing.