With Charlie approaching four and Susannah starting her prep year in January, we have been talking exhaustively about schooling options.
Susannah is the ‘easy’ prospect – we simply enrol her in the local primary, the same one where her big brother is in his sixth (and final!) year. Making decisions about Charlie’s learning and development is much harder.
We still don’t have a diagnosis for Charlie. It’s clear that something is seriously amiss, but despite having had every test under the sun, the reasons elude us. Charlie has just passed the three-and-a-half mark and has yet to take her first step, say her first word, crawl, make any meaningful gestures or pull herself to standing. She has missed pretty much every milestone past ‘sitting up unaided’, which she managed (just a little late) at nine months old.
In the absence of a prognosis, it’s hard to ‘slot’ her in to any preschool programs with confidence.
So many of them are run by organisations specific to the diagnosis – the “Cerebral Palsy Foundation” or “Autism Awareness” and the like. We continue with speech, occupational and physical therapies, but progress has been infinitesimally s l o o o w . Charlie and Susannah have been attending the same mainstream kindergarten two days a week for over a year now and, although they haven’t actually said it, I suspect they’re worried about what they can offer Charlie as she gets older.
We’ve just made the decision to enrol her in a local ECDP (Early Childhood Development Program) run by Education Queensland (public and free, thank goodness – not much is!). It’s a ‘school readiness program’ for children between three and five. They have a maximum of six children to every teacher and in this case, Charlie is the first child in their new time slot. That means that for the first few weeks, she’s likely to have the teacher and a teacher aide all to herself. Two on one attention from ‘special education’ trained teachers! It’s only two mornings a week for two-and-a-half hours at a time, but the schedule is jam-packed and she fell asleep on Michael’s shoulder before we’d even left the room after her first day.
I had really hoped we wouldn’t have to face the possibility of enrolling Charlie in a ‘special’ school.
I desperately wanted her to be able to go ‘mainstream’. I didn’t want to buy her first wheelchair, apply for a disabled parking pass, pay a thousand specialists for no new information or join the gym just so I could get strong enough to meet her growing needs. None of this was in my plan – it’s not what anyone dreams about when their new baby is handed to them, full of promise. I have rebelled inwardly against every one of these decisions.
The ECDP teacher tells me that around two thirds of the program graduates go on to ‘mainstream’ prep years, but I’m starting to realise that ‘special’ school might give Charlie more help than ‘mainstream’ teachers have time for – and that wherever is best for Charlie is okay with me.
Have you ever flown with your disabled child?