A recent article printed in The Examiner, on July 10th 2014, told of some of the difficulties we have encountered whilst Finn attended a mainstream primary school. The article also released information regarding the Parent Satisfaction Survey.
During the interview I mentioned the positive experiences since Finn changed schools, but these weren't printed. I felt this made me look like a mother harping on about the same issues, as I have been quoted in the past regarding improvements that need to be made within the education system regarding children who require extra assistance.
My husband and I are VERY satisfied parents now and I would like to share with you why we now feel this way.
Michael and I have 2 children, our daughter Niamh who is 13 and our son Finn is 11. Finn has Down syndrome.
The majority of Finn's years attending a mainstream primary school in Northern Tasmania were most enjoyable. Finn's teacher aide worked with him from Kinder through to the end of Grade 4, so there was a strong connection between them.
All Finn's teachers were marvellous! I did feel disappointed for the staff though, as they didn't receive offers to participate in professional learning sessions on Down syndrome until mid last year when Finn's teacher aide and I attended such a seminar.
I have attend 3 seminars and walked away each time feeling more confident, and taking with me more empathy and strategies to enhance Finn's life.
Towards the end of Grade 4, Finn's friend who had been in all of Finn's classes since Kinder, left the state. Finn and his friend would sit at a desk together in class and keep each other company in the playground.
I communicated with the staff, asking for them to keep a closer than usual eye on Finn, as I had an inkling that we'd be encountering a change.
UnfortunateIy I was right.
Finn, on only 3 occasions started to behave differently in the school playground. These behaviours weren't seen in the classroom and I didn't notice them at home. These behaviours were very out of character so alarm bells started to ring for my husband and I. We realised that he was feeling lonely since his friend left the school.
Finn was seeking attention, any attention would do, be it with a positive or negative outcome. I think Finn had difficulty expressing himself to his peers so he became frustrated, consequently causing friction between him, some students and teachers. I felt sorry for Finn when he was reprimanded for misbehaving. I knew he was doing it for a reason. I think it was because he knew he couldn't use his words effectively so he relied on his actions to do the talking.
Two occasions come to mind where I was filled with sadness and worry regarding Finn's ability to cope with social situations at school. Every afternoon I would collect Finn from school and we would chat in the car about his day on our way home.
One afternoon Finn told me he played football at lunch time. I asked who he kicked the ball to, he answered "to the clouds".
Another time Finn told me he played on the slide at lunch time, I asked who he was with. Finn answered "my shadow".
No parent wants to hear this. I felt so sorry for Finn.
I am not saying that children MUST be with or play with someone during recess & lunch, it's their personal choice. But when there isn't a choice, one's happiness starts to slowly be replaced with loneliness.
I don't believe in the buddy system where children are rostered to keep a child company in an area. Friendships cannot be forced, they are a natural bond between like minded people.
It was time to make a decision.
Moving Finn to another mainstream school wasn't an option, as we knew Finn would encounter similar challenges.
So, late in 2013, we enrolled Finn at the Northern Support School St. Georges Campus, completing application forms and attending meetings in record time.
This was an important decision for us and a big move for Finn.
Before Term 4 finished, Finn and his aide visited St. Georges on a few occasions to familiarise Finn with his new surroundings. He really enjoyed these visits, so much so that departing the premises would take quite a while!
At 8:30 on day 2 of Term 1, my husband and I watched Finn board the school bus, fasten his seat belt, smiling happily as he waved us goodbye. Tears of happiness filled my eyes.
Finn is now half way through his first year at St. Georges and absolutely thriving. Family and friends have noticed positive changes in Finn from very early on in the year which have steadily continued.
We are now living with a more confident, more co-operative and social boy who now uses a wider range of words, his speech is clearer and he joins in and holds conversations more willingly and for longer.
I remember Finn quoting one of his class mates earlier in the year. I just looked at Finn and thought what an unfamiliar statement he had just made! It was like I was speaking to a different child!
The most wonderful outcome has been that Finn now has friends.
I know this is the right place for Finn to be until he graduates. The numbers are low in each class, Finn is one of 8 students with a teacher and 2 assistants. I know Finn is feeling supported and understood.
I don't mind at all that Finn attends a support school, it's name defines it perfectly.