Thursday, October 25, 2012

School memories

Before Ashley, I rarely thought about school and how well a child with special needs would fit in or be included.   I remember the first time we discussed what the future would look like and a health care professional mentioned school.  At the time, Ashley was six months old and seizing more than 100 times a day.  I laughed at the idea of school, brushed the idea aside and tried to move the discussion to more pertinent issues.  I was firmly told that EVERY child goes to school.  Well, I have to admit that I wasn't too impressed by the implication that I had no say in the matter.

I had no plans to send Ashley to school, unless it was clear that it would be good for her.  She was looking better at four and half years old, and actually needing more stimulation.  I started thinking that school might be a good thing.  Our physiotherapist and occupational therapist encouraged us with stories of other special needs children who blossomed in the school system.  I could see that Ashley was positively stimulated by other kids and eventually we agreed that 'yes' school would be a good thing.  I had no idea what a blessing it would be.

I am sharing this because I know of a family who has a child with special needs, who was denied admission to a large christian school here in Winnipeg.  Their older son was already in attendance at the school.  Of course it is not a problem for a school to reject an applicant for a good reason.  It would be completely justified and understandable if the school stated that it did not have the resources or proper facility to provide for the special needs of a child.

What I don't understand is why the parents would be subjected to, what sounds like, a harsh and cruel attitude when discussing their daughter.  Why would a Principal say that it would not be good for the older son to have his sister in the same school?  Especially when the son was so excited to have his sister at school.  He had a picture of her in his locker, and was eager to share his experiences with her when he got home.  Why would a Principal go on to say that older students would not benefit from volunteering with the special needs child, and worse, that they have better places to spend there time?

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that there are still people who see a child with special needs and only see the burden, the disability and the problems.  But I cried when I heard this because my greatest yearning was for others to see the value in my special girls.  My heart broke for the parents as I imagined what it would feel like to hear your child rejected because of their disability.  To be told, to your face that your child wasn't worthy or valued.  To be told that your child is a burden that no one would benefit learning from.

So, here I am to tell you of my experience with Ashley going to school.  Ashley was wonderfully recieved by the entire faculty and the students at Chancellor school.  We were pleasantly surprised at the positive attitude of every staff member that we worked with.  We really felt that Ashley's presence was valued and highly anticipated.  I did not expect such a high level of acceptance, and something else occurred that I didn't expect.  Ashley was loved.

It brings tears to my eyes as I remember the day that I realized Ashley had become part of her own little community, full of beautiful children and teachers who truly loved and accepted her.  It was the day we returned to Ashley's class to remember her life and we were joined by some students, mom's, and teachers.  They had a slideshow of pictures and as the photo's rolled by, my eyes were opened to Ashley's world at school.  Children reading to Ashley, holding her hand, and taking turns pushing her wheelchair.  Ashley in the arms of her EA during music time and circle time.  Ashley sharing her favorite book, 'The Little Engine Who Could', with the children gathered around paying close attention. 

Most striking were the multiple photos of one little girl, who was showed up often at Ashley's side.  Ashley had a best friend.  I didn't find this out until I met Taylor's mom at the remembrance.  Taylor's mom had heard a lot about Ashley, and what the girls played with and where they sat, but she did not know that Ashley was in a wheelchair until she saw the school photo of the kindergarten class.  Taylor had never mentioned Ashley's disabilities.  Taylor loved Ashley just the way she was.  That is the beauty of children.

That is the blessing of a having a child with special needs in the classroom.  Children are very accepting of differences, especially when their teachers model that acceptance.  Without even knowing it, children develop compassion and understanding for the differences in others and it becomes a non-issue.

Taylor still has 'Ashley's pink bear' that we gave her, and the photo of the two of them in her room.  I met Taylor and her mom at Brodie's hockey practice the other weekend and was pleasantly surprised that they remembered Ashley.  What a special gift.