I will never forget the day we waved our tiny four year old off on the school bus to her new special school.
It held so much emotion for us, the immediate concern about her going on school transport, and more profoundly, the grief we felt that this was not the school we had envisaged her going to when she was a tiny baby and we were starting to mentally picture what her life may be like.
Grief pours out of the gap between expectation and reality; perhaps being a parent to a disabled child is one of the circumstances where this experience is at its most intense.
My daughter has been at her incredible special school for five years now.
I am so pleased that we made that choice for her from the beginning. There was a temptation from us to want to ‘give mainstream a go first’ but, looking back, I know that was more because I was not ready to accept the situation rather than it being of benefit to her. In the end, we were guided by a senior portage worker and a SENCO from my other child mainstream school. They kindly and gently helped us realise that a specialist setting was what she needed.
My older daughter felt sad that her sister would not be joining her school. This settled, although occasions like joint sibling school photos were painful for her, when she knew that her sister would not be there. As those initial weeks went by and youngest settled at her special school, I started to realise a few things. I realised that she would escape the pressure of exams, the drudgery of revision, the pressure to ‘fit in’, the playground sniping, social media angst, the boring bits of learning, stiff and uncomfortable polyester blazers.
Instead she was being given a curriculum tailored to her and delivered with such warmth.
It features hydrotherapy, bouncing, chickens and guinea pigs. Every day she lives in the moment with a specialised team around her to give her the very best time possible. There’s a uniform if she fancies it but if she wants to board the school taxi dressed as a Gruffalo, that’s cool too.
My advice to other parents sending a little one off to a specialist setting in September would be – just wait. Allow yourself the time and space you need to feel all the feelings that come up for you. But please know that not only does all this get easier; it gets positively joyful. You have been given access to an exclusive club and a secret world that only a tiny proportion of people get to experience.
In this world you’ll find the kindest of people, the most awesome kids, and incredible families.
I genuinely find myself smiling to myself sometimes when I realise this. It’s not the individual things that make special schools special but the sum of the parts which create a deeply positive and enveloping energy that I have yet to find anywhere else.