There is quite the build up to it. As parents it starts a good while before your child's first day.
Not only is there the choosing, but there’s the emotional build up – my little baby, off to school.
With Emma, our eldest, this was nothing but a positive experience. She was so utterly ready to go.
You could see she’d grown out of nursery, that she needed more; more friends, more challenges, more experiences.
With Alex, our little undiagnosed boy with his endless list of disabilities…this was a much more complicated transition.
For all of us.
He’d been in nursery since he was one – slowly building up from two mornings to three full days and he quite clearly loved it.
More importantly – for us – they clearly loved him.
His 1:1 championed him, championed his achievements and advocated for his needs - every day.
It was safe, nurturing. It was known.
But school? Good God was he ready for that? My little boy who needs help in every aspect of his life? How could he possibly be ready?
Turns out that he – like his sister – was utterly ready.
It was just us having to catch up.
Having thrived at his mainstream nursery we wanted to keep that connection for as long as possible so we decided to do a split placement.
Alex’s main school is the additional needs school but, every day, usually in the afternoon, he’s wheeled over to the mainstream school – Emma’s school – across the car park and spends an hour or so with the reception children there.
Socialisation – so important.
Something I never thought would happen – my kids, even briefly, at the same school.
I cry just writing it to be honest. It’s been so good for him – it keeps him connected with some of the friends he made at nursery and it – trailblazer that he is - keeps disability in front of the children (and the teachers).
I feel so strongly that the more disability is integrated into mainstream life the less it becomes ‘other’…not scary, just different.
And to the children, he’s ‘…just Alex’.
To the parents who are going through this process for this year, for this year’s intake… don’t be scared.
It’s not the path you’d have chosen, it’s not the path I’d have chosen, but it’s not as bad and scary a path as you’d imagine.
Sitting here, now, I find it hard to see how I got myself so worked up.
His additional needs school is as nurturing, as championing as his nursery.
His teacher and TA clearly want the best for him and will shout as loudly as we do if needs be.
And the opportunities it offers: hydrotherapy, horse riding, an on-site sensory room. All this stimulation is vital for any child’s development, but especially those with additional needs.
It brings them to life.
Alex is pre-verbal, so his way of expressing happiness is flapping his arms and legs whilst having a great big grin on his face.
It’s delightful. This he does both on the way to school and on the way home.
I like to think he’s telling me about his day, how much fun it was, the things the other children did… we talk to him as if it is.
It’s the same conversation I have with Emma – just in a slightly different fashion.