20 January 2017
In just over a week I have 4 year old starting school. A time that could have been filled with anxiety, IEP meetings, funding applications and trepidation is instead filled with excitement, joy and relief.
As it should be.
All because, as parents, we decided that mainstream school just wasn’t on the agenda in the immediate future and because life has made us individually tenacious and resourceful (and while I think we may both appear slightly arrogant because of this I can assure you we are both always trying desperately to hold onto our shit) we sought out our ideal solution and pursued it relentlessly without compromise.
When our eldest son was diagnosed with Global Development Delay at 18 months, followed by Autism a few months later, mainstream school was the goal. It was the language that we heard from professionals during that period, as if that was the pinnacle of success. As I write that I can visualize us grabbing onto individual threads; lifelines for two very young perfectionistic people thrown into special needs parenting before the age of 30. Please allow me to add a disclaimer that I have a magnitude of respect for all, bar two, of the various professionals I have worked with in the last three years and I do not see using that language as wrong or unhelpful in in the slightest. It is completely necessary for human beings, perfectionist or not (you easy going lucky ducks) to have goals to inform the trajectory of their daily work. Mainstream school for children with special needs is a good one, and for many realistic. Also on a very practical level an energetic four year old preschooler seemed a long way from the toddler we adored.
This language has shaped the last few years all the way up to less than six months ago. It informed not only the 4 therapy sessions each week but also daily life until one day when those cords got snipped. I remember the exact moment the scissors came out. I was standing on the sidewalk outside the pediatrician’s office with a script for Prozac in one hand and my phone in the other. I dialed my most dialed number and stuffed that prescription into a bag, it was never seen again. By dialing that number I cut both our cords. The conversation around mainstream schooling had met its expiry date and the city I had grown up in and was living in was simply ill equipped to deal with the next one. Even living in one of the best public school catchment areas in Western Australia could not cloud the reality that the specialiased schooling that we required simply did not exist in Perth and while that that tide is beginning to change it would be too late for Master A. This is a continuing challenge for those living outside of the major Australian cities
The next day I booked a flight to the other side of the country to look at schools and thanked every lucky star in the sky that the current absurdity of the Australian property market had discouraged any thought of buying a house giving our family the flexibility to simply pack up and move. In the few days I was in the city of Sydney, a place that I love and consider my adult home, I looked at several schools but when I left Perth I only had one application already filled out and it was the only one I handed in. I had back up plans because I am by nature pessimistic and but I was praying to every God in the sky I wouldn’t have to pursue them.
After organizing multiple letters of recommendation on my return to the West and undertaking the tremendous challenge of flying Master A over for a school interview I eventually received the phone call with the news that I can only imagine felt like winning the lottery. We had got our first and only real preface. Snipping those lifelines surrounding mainstream education gave us the freedom to seek out the best possible solution for Master A and our family, the fact that we got one of only a handful of places given out each year was simply mind boggling.
As I try desperately to stay out of the nuthouse while waiting out the rest of the sentence for parents that is the summer holidays I do so with excitement and confidence that Master A will not only be fine with approaching change, that he is largely unaware of, but also be challenged and flourish within a supportive environment suited to his needs. I hope the parents of all children readying to start school, regardless of individual challenges, are feeling the same but I am doubtful that this is the reality. It is much more likely that I am one of the lucky few.
The right to a supportive education for all children regardless of background and special needs is protected by legislation and entrenched in policy but I am becoming very apprehensive about the future for special needs education. American politics and policy have a history of trickling down to this side of the equator. Trump has just taken office as the leader of the free world, his subsequent nominee of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education and his affiliation with the irrational Robert F, Kennedy Junior, not to mention his general conduct that is on public record is causing many to feel extremely anxious. I am, quite frankly, scared shitless. For all those who are not white, middle aged, able bodied men we should be wary and apprehensive of the years to come.
Meanwhile I have uniforms to pick up, a new hat to buy and a backpack to pack; because regardless of the wider state of the world parents go on doing what they have always done sourcing the best possible solutions for their children. My prayers and hopes now have now extended past our individual family circumstances and often involve the word impeachment.