Archive | March, 2010

Finding a School #2 – the first visit

25 Mar

It’s taken me almost a week since my school visits to write this post, but that’s a good thing. It’s given me a lot of time to reflect on the schools myself.

I found all three of the schools to be very warm and welcoming and to anyone who’s about to embark on a similar journey of searching for a school for your child, I hope you find the experience as positive as I have so far.

You may remember that school 1 was the nearest and biggest of the three schools I am looking at. It is also the one with the biggest integration program (with 22 children).

We started the visit with a meeting between myself, the integration teacher and the principal. They told me a little about the school’s philosophy and then asked me about S. I told them he had cerebral palsy and explained a little about what he could do. When I finished, the integration teacher commented that he sounded just like a student they’d had many years ago with CP – although he couldn’t walk at all and was in a wheelchair. AND he was non-verbal. The principal enthusiastically agreed.

Hhmmm. So basically, the only real similarity between this student and my son was that they both have CP.  I wondered if they’d actually heard anything beyond the label. That set off a few alarm bells for me for a school so confident in its integration program.

Walking around the school, I was quite impressed with their use of the grounds – lots of gardens for the children to grow plants in, decent playgrounds, accessible via ramp (although the ramp wasn’t very conveniently placed – it would be a long walk to and from playing). About 50% of the classrooms were readily accessible and the others weren’ t too bad – just 2-3 steps to get in.

I found the principal to be very friendly and clearly passionate about his school and happy to answer any question I had.

I found the experience overall positive, but I just didn’t get the feeling that this was the ‘right’ school for us – I think largely because of the grounds and because despite there being a large integration program, their experience with children with physical disabilities was clearly very limited. I sensed that their strengths lay elsewhere.

School number 2, you may remember, had a unit for hearing impaired children attached. I had been told over the phone that this was ‘very separate’ to the school itself, leading me to believe that the students were taught separately. I was pleasantly surprised to find that wasn’t the case at all. The students were mostly integrated into the classroom but the unit provided withdrawal sessions as required. As I took a tour of the school, I saw several staff members signing in Auslan alongside the classroom teacher and the classrooms seemed to be positive places of learning for all.

I had always been confident that this school would be very accessible and it is.  Most of the classrooms are in the same large building and there is ramp access to almost all entry points. The grounds were equally assessible and very pleasant places to be. The school also has a designated disabled toilet and the main toilets were easy to access too.

The school LOTE is Auslan. This appealed to me. Although I know that a lot of signing might be difficult for S because of his limited fine motor control, we already use some Makaton signs and I think learning Auslan could definitely benefit S, as well as being an interesting subject.

I was a little disappointed that the deputy principal who showed me around asked me no questions at all about S. I worried this might show a lack of interest in him and his particular needs.

However, overall, I was feeling very positive about the school until right near the end of my visit.

I asked the principal about availability of places for 2011. He was confident that there would be a place for S. I then told him that we know 2 gorgeous twins with mild CP who would be attending the school at prep next year and asked him if he thought having  these three children in the same year might pose challenges for the school.

And then there was a slight shift in his enthusiasm. He said it would definitely pose challenges and suddenly he was unsure about when or whether he could confirm a place for S next year.

Hhmm.

In his defence, knowing these twins were also attending this school has also had me wondering if it would put too much pressure on the school – which is, of course, why I raised the question.

Of course, I was hoping for a different reaction than the one I got but I guess it’s better that he was honest. There are only 2 prep classes this year and probably will be the same next year. Knowing that there is a good chance there will also be hearing impaired children in the room, I wonder just whether the teacher and the school might be a little too stretched to provide well for them all. And again, I wondered – does this school’s strength lie elsewhere?

I am not sure how much I should worry about this issue? I am considering calling the principal and discussing it with her. It would be nice to hear a second opinion from another senior administrator at the school.

AND I should point out, my concern is not about our ‘right’ to have S at the school. My only concern is about the school that will offer the best opportunities and have the best environment for S to be in.

School number 3, as you may recall, was the school I’d had the least to do with thus far. When I rang the principal, her response was to suggest I come visit rather than talk over the phone. I liked her crisp professionalism straight away.

The school has a very good local reputation academically and has a big music and arts program.

I was really looking forward to the visit to see more for myself.

As I drove up towards the school, I was a little disappointed to see stairs. Not a lot, but enough to have me a bit worried.

The principal was just as I had expected her to be. Very open and very professional. Of all the three schools, she was the one who I felt had the clearest idea about what having S at the school might mean. She raised several issues before I’d had the chance to do so and asked clear, sensible questions about S’s needs and abilities. I could tell she was putting the child first, and the label second.

I also got the best ‘feel’ about the classrooms from this school. I liked the mood around the school, the way that the students seemed to be operating within the classrooms and the way the teachers were interacting with them. Also, even though all three of the schools had interactive whiteboards in most classrooms, this was the only school where I saw them actively being used. I know that doesn’t mean the other schools DON’T use them, but it gave me a good feeling that this school was one which appreciated and utilised ICT – something that’s very important to me seeing as I know that S will be using his electronic communication device to assist him with much of his schoolwork.

The downside of this school IS the stairs. The school’s main building is completely accessible from one side but because the building is on an incline, the other side of the building has 7-8 stairs up to each of the classrooms. I know that S could always take a different entrance. However, I also would like him to have the SAME access to his classroom as his peers AND I worry about what could happen if he insisted on using those stairs. He can navigate stairs. He walks up and down the stairs at the back of our house every day – BUT he does so holding on the railing very tightly and without the presence of 20 odd eager children around who might accidentally give him a prod that would see him tumbling to the bottom.

The main toilets are also very inaccessible – located between two sets of stairs. And because of the layout of this particular part of the building, I don’t imagine ramp access would be an option.

For the first year, the toilets wouldn’t be a problem. The prep area is separate to the main building and they have their own toilets there which would be very easily accessible for S.

So there you go. That’s the three schools. Sorry this is long and thanks if you’ve read this far! Putting it down on paper has definitely helped me think through them all a bit more.

I think you can tell that I’ve pretty much ruled out school number 1. I just don’t think it’s the right place for us. Now it’s down to 2 or 3.

I am definitely leaning towards school 3 – but have concerns about the access. However, I still think school 2 is possible – but would like to speak to the principal to get a bit more of a feel.

S”s OT has offered to go out to school number 3 to do a report on the accessibility. I rang the school today to discuss that with them and they were very open to the idea. The principal was even problem solving with me on the phone a few of the issues. The OT will be going out there in the second week of term 2. I also know that there should be funding available for the school to resolve issues AND we have the benefit of not urgently needing major changes until 2012 when S would leave the designated prep area which is very accessible (I imagine we would be able to problem solve around visits to other parts of the school for different parts of the curriculum for the first year if we had to).

I will ring the principal of school 2 in the next couple of days to get a bit more of an idea about what the school might be able to offer for S.

SOOOO what do you think??? I would love any thoughts, suggestions, ideas on anything I’ve raised so far…

AND I would like to repeat again, that so far, I haven’t found this experience anywhere near as daunting or scary as I had expected. The schools have been really open and interested and my experience has been really positive.

Thanks again for reading this far!

IQ assessment

20 Mar

Last Monday, S had his IQ assessment, which is part of the process of school preparation for next year – mostly important from the point of view of funding.

I’ve always been fairly confident that S would have no worries in this area (which of course means less funding, but I am not about to complain about that!) and was right. In the 1.5 hour session he did well and the psychologist confirmed that he is ‘average’ for his age. He also commented on how co-operative and willing S was for the tasks – which again, is no surprise to me. S really loves to please people. He loves to get praise. So sitting in a room getting lots of one-on-one attention from someone is right up his alley. For him, this wasn’t a test. It was just playing games.

The psychologist also handled the testing really well. I was allowed to sit in – as a bit of a back up communicator I guess – in case he was unable to understand something that S wanted to say. As it turned out, he didn’t need to call on me too much and I was really pleased with S for his confidence communicating what he wanted to say to an adult that he was meeting for the first time.

The only part of the test that really tested me, was one involving him having to arrange blocks in certain patterns. To give full credit to the psychologist (who tests a lot of kids with CP of varying degrees so is very aware of issues of communication/motor control etc) he asked me first if I thought S would be willing to attempt the task. S loves puzzles, so I thought we’d give it a try.

He did give it a try, but the blocks were small and were very hard for S to position into place without knocking others out of the way. He persevered but it really was a challenge. A challenge not at all related to his intelligence, but his fine motor control.

As I said, the psychologist is experienced, and was aware of what was causing the challenges. However, it did make me think about what the case would be if the tester was not so experienced and could come to the wrong conclusions….

I am glad to have this testing out of the way.  One less task we need to do for S’s school preparation journey.

Speaking about schools, I am still reflecting on the schools I visited this week and trying to work out which one is best. I have narrowed it down to 2. I will be back in tomorrow to list the pros and cons of each. I think I really need some help deciding which one is best!

‘Right From The Start’

17 Mar

Thanks for the comments re our first step of searching for a school for S. I visited one of the schools yesterday, another today and will see the third tomorrow. I will post more about my thoughts after tomorrow’s visit. So far so good.

But for now, something different.

Just as we’re heading into our final year of early intervention, an active campaign is being run to reduce waiting periods and increase services for early intervention programs in Victoria (the state we live in).

We’ve been very lucky that we’ve been able to access wonderful services for S, but they have cost us money and we’ve been on more than one waiting list – in fact, we’re still on waiting lists for additional funding for further speech therapy and a few other things. And we know of many families who have been on waiting lists for a very long time. Sad to say that some areas are better serviced than others and sometimes it’s just a matter of luck – which should never be the case.

And even our great early intervention centre is still very dependent on fund raising to help meet the costs of providing its great service – the money currently provided by the government is just not enough.

So, I am all for supporting any campaign that will hopefully make things better. I also truly believe that the more money spent in the early years by governments, the less they will need to spend in the future.

This campaign is only running through March. Please show your support by signing this petition:

Right From the Start Electronic Petition

You can also read some family stories, and apparently post your own at the

Right from the Start blog.

This is a campaign being run by the Victorian chapter of the organisation  ‘Early Childhood Intervention Australia’ (which I will admit I had never heard of until now). I am not sure if they are running a similar campaign in other states, but even if not, I would hope a successful campaign in Vic could help the cause (or at least encourage further campaigns!) in other states too.

Finding a school #1 – ‘The Welcome Mat’.

10 Mar

Even though it’s only March, we are looking far forward into 2011 already. I want to have decided on a school for S by the end of term 1 so that we can be sure to have as much in place as possible as early as possible.

I am sure I will be writing a lot about this over the course of the year.

Finding the right school feels like the biggest challenge we’ve faced for a while and it probably is. I’ve heard so many stories, both good and bad about starting school experiences and I’m determined to get it right.

But I’m realising that’s a pretty daunting task.

How do I know which school is the right school? How can I be sure that it will be an inclusive, positive, proactive place of learning for my boy for the next 6 years?

Step 1 has been approaching our nearby schools to arrange a visit.

As we’re only new in the area, I don’t much about the schools. I’ve just had a little feedback from friends who live nearby.

There are 4 schools that are fairly close to us so that’s where I am starting. And hopefully stopping. I really have my fingers crossed that ONE of these schools will be the right one.

I rang each of these schools  on Tuesday to arrange a visit next week.

I figure that first impressions count, so I was keen to hear their response when I told them I was looking for a school for my son who has additional needs.

I spoke to the principal at each school and here’s how it went.

School 1 (the biggest of the schools with over 400 children) was very confident, telling me about their big integration program, currently with 22 children. He was  also keen to tell me the school was very accessible, had had students in the past with physical disabilities and had NO problem with bullying. We arranged a visit for next Wednesday morning.

School 2 (the furthest away of the 4 but with a ‘solid’ local reputation) was very positive about S attending, but took a very different approach. Rather than talking to me over the phone she was keen to arrange a visit instead where I could ‘see the school for myself’ and ask any questions that I then might have. We arranged a visit for next Thursday morning.

School 3 (the one I am most interested in at this stage) is the only school I’d already spoken to at length. This school has a lot going for it – it has a unit for hearing impaired children attached to it so I at first was sure this would spell a school that knew about inclusion. I also love that the LOTE is Auslan. It’s  quite small and from having driven past it several times, I can safely say is very FLAT – easily accessible for a little boy in a walking frame. It’s also a school that a good friend is considering for her two little girls with very mild CP or next year. I have arranged to visit the school next Tuesday.

School 4 (the closest school) has always had a huge question mark over it. Locally, it has a very good reputation BUT it’s an accessibility nightmare. Stairs everywhere. Still, I decided to call them because it is the closest and my friend whose children go there loves it. I figured that you never know, they might be keen to apply for a whole stack of funding and make the school fully accessible! But after my phone call on Tuesday, I think I can safely say that this school is now, officially, off the list. Whereas the other 3 schools were keen to arrange a time for me to come in and meet them, the principal of this school instead told me I should come and walk around the school grounds one weekend to see what I thought. That was it. No invite to meet with her. No suggestion that we would be welcome. When I pushed the question of whether the school COULD be made accessible, she said that she ‘supposed’ that there was funding available but she wasn’t sure how far it would go.

OK. So four has already become three.

I am looking forward to the visits next week. BUT I still don’t know HOW I will be able to tell from the visits which of these schools is best.

To anyone who is a bit further down the track: please, I am keen for any advice! What should I look for? What questions should I ask? What answers should raise red flags? What answers should I be thrilled with? Which school should I chose? ;-).

Now that the process of looking has started, I will admit I am not dreading it as much as I was. I was genuinely really impressed with the attitude of the first three schools which I really felt were putting out a welcome mat for us. I still think this is going to be a challenge, but I am really looking forward to the next step of SEEING the schools next week.

Busy

5 Mar

We had our first full week of therapies etc this week. And I can see it’s going to be a busy year!

Monday was our first CPEC session. 5 hours worth. S enjoyed it thoroughly. It was nice to see some of our old friends again and meet some new ones. There is a big focus in the sessions this year on school preparation. I can see that being just that little bit older has made all the difference to S. All the activities were really well targeted to where he’s at right now. It was  a long day, but good fun.

Monday was also M’s first full day of child-care. I have been wanting him to start child-care for a while now – just for  a day.  I knew it would be good for him to have a chance to interact with more kids his own age and also to experience a little more independence from mum and Aunty J. He loved it. There were just a few tears as I left, but within 15 minutes of me leaving staff tell me he was happily playing with the other kids. Great! He will be going to child-care every Monday while S is at CPEC. A good arrangement for us all.

Tuesday was horse-riding. We have moved locations for our riding. We are now riding at a children’s farm close to the heart of the city. However, looking around you would never guess where we are. The location is sublime. It looks and feels like we are 100 miles away from the city. We have the same trainer and volunteers and S was very happy to see his favourite horse again. He was also looking more straighter and stronger as he rode.

Tuesday afternoon was also swimming lessons. At our old swimming pool, when I enquired about swimming lessons for S, they said they could only offer me one-on-one classes (with a one-on-one price!) and that there was no-one trained specifically to teach children with special needs. It couldn’t be more different at our new swimming pools.  Both our new local pools are perfectly accessible for people with disabilities, including beach or ramp entrances into the water, wheelchair hoists, abundant accessible car parks AND best of all, a special program of swimming classes called ‘access all abilities’ providing specialised trained staff. We have a wonderful new teacher and a class of 2 – with a new little friend (aged 6) who also has CP. I am still trying to figure out how I didn’t know about these classes beforehand and kicking myself. Where we live now is not so far from our old house and I would definitely have driven S out here for lessons had I known there was such a great program and teacher available.

S loved the teacher and the lesson. We are looking forward to his improved confidence and ability in the water as we attend the classes weekly!

Wednesday was kinder. I’m loving watching S at kinder this year. He is so much more confident and relaxed around the other kids.

The staff have been really proactive in helping me achieve our number one goal for the year at kinder – to encourage him to interact more with his peers and not depend on the staff. The staff are giving him a much wider berth and doing a great job of initiating play opportunities and then backing away.

Last year, even though he would play with the other kids when guided to do so, he barely knew any of their names and when I asked him about his day he would talk about the staff, not the kids. We’re hoping that we can shift this focus. I am hopeful.  I think the main reason he did this was because of failed communication attempts with other kids. If he tried to tell them something and they didn’t understand, he would give up. His speech is so much clearer now and his confidence so much greater, that I am really hoping we’ll see a change in this area.

To help him get to know the other kids a bit better, we have a class photo and S and I sit down and he tells me as many names of the kids as he can. He loves this game and is doing really well at getting to know them by name.

And in a very exciting development, he took himself to the toilet at kinder on Wednesday, without even telling the staff. AND even more exciting was that there was no acccident involved. Woohoo!

Thursday is our quiet day – much needed after a busy week. Unfortunately this also means it’s often the only time I have to schedule in other appointments so it’s not always as quiet as I would like. This Thur baby A had a visit with our super chiro. His shoulder and neck needed a final adjustment post his birth (made all the difference too. He slept almost non-stop that night and has been very chilled out since!)

And even though I want to do my best to not clutter up our Thursdays, I’ve decided to add in a late afternoon swim to help consolidate what S has been learning and also to give M some time in the pool. M is a natural swimmer. He loves the water so much and can paddle away in his swim ring like he’s been doing it all his life.  It cuts a little that he finds it so easy when S has been working so hard on these skills for so long and still has a way to go, but at the same time it’s so wonderful watching M enjoy the water and have such a natural affinity with it (I say it was all that swimming I did when I was pregnant with him ;-)). Regardless of how long we swim for, M will still scream and cry when it’s time to leave because he loves it so much.  We were there for almost 2 hours on Thursday! We joked a lot about M’s ‘old man hands’  from being in the water for so long and they both slept VERY well that night ;-).

Friday was kinder again. Another lovely morning session. I was busy with a few post birth appointments of my own while S was there and just made it back in time for the end of the session. There were lots of goodbyes as we left and I could already see how he’s starting to connect more with the other kids – but there’s still a long way to go.

SO even though we were all tired, I was pleased that on Friday afternoon S had been invited to a birthday party by one of the new kinder kids. I was a little nervous  (yep, nervous about heading to a 5 year old’s birthday party!) because it was a ‘gym’ party. I was worried about how S would go. BUT at the same time I was rapt that his mum had invited S instead of worrying that it might be too tricky (all the boys from the kinder group were invited). It was tricky for S, I will admit. The other kids were often well finished their activities before S was half way through (with my help) but the staff were very helpful and insistent that S got the full experience of what he could do and the other kids were very patient and didn’t seem to mind waiting for S at all.

I was so impressed that we’re looking at MAYBE doing a few more sessions there. I had already heard of this particular ‘kids gym’ program from 2 CPEC mums whose kids attend, so they know a lot about including kids with physical issues and helping them improve their skills. And S really seemed to enjoy the challenge. I have been thinking that something like this would be right up M’s alley too, so maybe I could take them along together?…

We’ll wait and see though if there’s any time in our busy schedule for any more kinder gym. I’d love to do it, but at the same time I’m worried about burning us all out. It’s going to be a big year ;-).

Fortunately, this is a long weekend, so Monday is a day off. And tonight there’s a big camping ‘trip’ scheduled – in the back yard. It’s a good thing we’re not going further afield as the forecast is for rain and possible thunderstorms. If everyone needs to abandon ship, then it will be an easy escape to the comfort of warm beds.

Have a good weekend!

Being a big brother

1 Mar

Ever since baby A was born, S has asked me a lot more questions about his birth and his early life. He’s especially fascinated by the idea of different hospital rooms, different hospital floors, nurses and the kinds of cords, machines, tubes etc that were part of his early days. He’s also very keen to know who came to visit him ;-).

But whatever form this ongoing repeated conversation takes, it always ends with the same comment. ‘I am glad that baby A wasn’t sick like me’. And then there’s a big sloppy kiss for his little brother.

And then there’s the other big brother – M.

I can’t believe how much becoming a big brother has helped him grow up. He’s never been particularly affectionate – a real boy’s boy who’d rather wrestle or jump on you than give you a cuddle.

And he’s not well known for being overly gentle either. For the most part he doesn’t do things quietly, or gently – except for when he’s playing with his beloved trains – and even that most often ends with the train track pieces being thrown all over the room as Thomas performs a spectacular crash complete with very dramatic sound effects :-).

But around baby A, he’s just a different person. He loves his baby brother to bits. ‘Well done baby brother’ is his newest favourite phrase used whenever baby A burps, sneezes, poos, sighs etc. And if he cries, M will say gently ‘don’t cry baby brother’.

Last night I thought my heart might just about burst with love as I watched M give baby A a cuddle at bed time. He was lying next to him on our bed, with his arm draped gently across his brother’s chest, saying ‘sshhh, sshh. It’s alright baby brother. Time for sleep’.

And the ‘big brothers’ have started taking in turns as to who sits in the middle seat in the car whenever we go anywhere – taking it in turns to sit next to their baby brother to ‘look after’ him.

I know there will be times when having all these boys around me will make me yearn just a little again for a baby girl, but I love having these three boys, these three brothers who just love each other to bits and make me smile so much.

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