Sending your child to school for the first time is a BIG day. There are tears and it’s emotional, even though you’re a little bit relieved they will be kept occupied for five days a week!
I remember James’ first day at school – he was so brave, and he looked so little in his uniform. I was excited to pick him up and learn about his day, his teacher, and other children he’d met. He’s less forthcoming with the things he shares about his day now, but at the beginning, he was so excited to tell me everything. There seemed to be a birthday party invitation every week, play dates after school and chats in the playground with the other parents – sometimes even a mums’ night out!
I wanted Matthew to go to the same school as James, to wear the same school uniform, and get to know the same children, the same teachers. I wanted to see both boys together at their sports days, school discos and nativities, and for them to share the experience and see each other in the playground.
Sending your child to a special is a whole different journey, and it was a hard decision to make. We kept changing our minds about what would be best. I wanted him to learn from his peers and have local friends. I wanted to drop them off and pick them up together, and listen to stories about their day. I wanted Matthew to have as “normal” life as he could, but ultimately we went with a special school. We got him a place a year early, so technically, he’s in pre-school.
We thought, if we had made a mistake, we would have time to apply for a mainstream school.
On reflection, I think he’d probably do OK in a mainstream school (in the reception year), but then he’d have to leave because the structure of the lessons, and the work, would be too hard for him. He would end up being taken out of class to do his own activities, and I hated the thought of him being alone and different.
Matthew may have had a one-to-one carer in school, but I feared they would just be there to look after him: push him around the school, take him to the bathroom, feed him lunch – but would they be qualified in special needs education or any kind of physio or speech therapy?
I also hated the thought that James may be upset if he heard anyone talking about Matthew and being mean. He’s very protective of his brother and I think it would have affected his school experience because he would constantly feel like he needed to look after him and sit with him at lunch and at play time.
I want James to be young and carefree, and not have to worry about his brother while he’s at school. I want him to concentrate on his work and his friends and have a happy time.
Walking James to school on his first day was tough, but sending Matthew off on school transport was awful, on his own with people we didn’t know. There was no dropping him off in the classroom and chatting to other parents, then collecting him and asking him how it was. It was just me, standing at the window, waiting for what is essentially an ambulance to bring him home.
I can’t ask him about it; I can’t speak to the teachers, I don’t get to know the other children – he doesn’t have play dates with anyone in his class, there are no party invites. I do get notes from the staff in his diary, and I see the teachers once a week because I collect him one lunchtime and we go to his session at Footprints.
I have made contact with one other lovely mum, but it’s not the same.
Having said all that, he now goes on the bus and is so excited in the mornings – he’s learning so much and is so happy.
We actually forgot this was supposed to be a trial year to see whether we had made the right decision because he’s so settled there, and he has the most amazing teacher and staff in his room.
They take such good care of him. He has physiotherapy every Monday, hydrotherapy every Tuesday, speech therapists and occupational therapists working with him; the staff all use symbols and Makaton signing, he gets to go in the playground, on trips out, has fun in the soft play room and in the sensory room. He does so many activities tailored to help him learn and develop.
He has everything he needs, all arranged through school – whether it’s his new splints, an EHC plan review, or his equipment adjusted.
I’m sad that he’s not starting mainstream school this September. He won’t be going into the same reception room where I took James, but I’m happy we found a school to help him thrive.
At this point, I’m not worried whether he learns his times tables, learns to read, or learns about the Vikings. What I do want is for Matthew to learn how to feed himself, take his coat off, communicate, brush his teeth, make some toast, walk with his frame and go to the toilet – these are my educational goals for him, and I really believe he’s in the right place.
Going to Footprints helps us both, so if (like me) you’re a worrier with a child that has additional needs, do get in touch – they empower parents and give them the support they need too.
Footprints Conductive Education Centre is a small charity based in Nottingham.
They make such a difference to the lives of children with disabilities AND their parents and families – it really is life-transforming. If you are a company seeking to support a local charity making a difference in the local community, please get in touch. They need £200,000 every year to help families like mine.
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