As we drove past the place that I had heard about 37 years ago, I felt a cocktail of emotions. Would life have been different if I had gone here and spent most of my childhood making memories here? Would I have been the person I am today if the wish of someone else had been granted and made this the place that would have shaped my future? Chances are, the me of today may have remained dormant in an imposters mind and body. Life would have been different.
After being diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome at age 4, we had an influx of medical professionals invade on our life to offer tests, exams, operations, advice and support as best they knew how. Keeping in mind this was in the early 1980’s, most medical professionals worked solely from the medical model and never considered the holistic needs that each patient brought so they focussed on fixing what was broken. One way that they thought that I would best be fixed was by sending me to specialise school to help me with my new-found additional needs. My parents had other ideas.
Both of my brothers were in a mainstream school, so they believed that keeping me with my brothers was the best thing possible. Even after a less than friendly social worker came to the house to discuss that “Children like me” could only thrive in a specialist school, my mother stood her ground and said no. My eternally placid mother became a fiery female warrior as she walked the black suited social worker to the front door and told her that they would not need to meet again and bid her farewell. I have always loved my mother and it was times like that that made my love grow to another level of intensity. She spoke my child like thoughts to the adult world in the most loving ways.
The debate between mainstream and specialist education is not a luxury that is open to many children with specialist needs. Some needs are far greater than can be met in mainstream education. Long term complex physical and mental health needs are best supported in an environment that has the expertise to help nurture the child in the best way possible and in such cases, these amazing schools seem the only option. There are times however that individuals with complex needs can still achieve a great deal in mainstream education. Each case is more than their diagnosis can predict as everyone evolves through life at their own pace.
Being in a mainstream school may never have been easy but it was always enjoyable. I loved to learn things in an alternative manner to most and used auditory and kinesthetic ways to take in the information that seeped through the eyes of others. I problem solved in unconventional ways whilst enjoying the magic in life that most seemed to ignore. Feeling alive around children who slept walked through life kept me motivated to live life just as I was and to never change a thing.
This experience of life in mainstream education was the determining factor on us choosing to keep one of our sons in mainstream education despite being advised otherwise. When he received his Statement of Educational Needs at the tender age of 3 we were advised that he would never have the potential to thrive due to his health needs and Autism. We visited specialist schools locally during the decision-making process but felt that he really did not belong here. I had worked in such schools before and I had mixed opinions on how they were run. I knew that my son had more potential that the schools could offer to support.
13 years on he has excelled in areas that others never thought he would reach and that is due to his motivation to succeed. 37 years on and I understand his drive to becoming more that was ever expected of me. Specialist schools are an amazing environment for some children to grow in and have the specific resources in place to allow opportunities that may never be possible in mainstream schools. It is also true of the reverse as children surpass the limited expectations of others minds as they see through the barriers that textbooks create. The choice made for each child sometimes says more about the decision maker than the child. I am eternally grateful for my parent’s choice to see the potential that nobody else saw. We can all achieve more than others can ever believe.