My son, Ethan has attended a mainstream school and two different specialised schools over his school-going years.
These are just ten of the many things I have learned from his specialised school.
No subject is off-limits.
It’s perfectly acceptable to talk about your son’s bowel movements over the phone while the teacher is eating her lunch. The teacher is something of a wizard and seems to know why your son's bowel movements could be off. Basically the teacher knows your son very very well.
They have seen it all.
There’s no slap, no punch, no shout that they haven’t experienced before. In fact, they are the ones who often teach the parents how best to cope at home with such behaviours.
You don’t get a phone call telling you that your child was ‘bold’ or anything like that, instead you get a phone call telling you no one was hurt, and to check if the behaviour is similar at home - the phone call is often ended with a solution and you actually feel good that they rang.
Specialized schools know how to celebrate.
Halloween, Christmas, Easter and Summer Sports Days are the absolute best in specialised schools. They are big, fun, bright and everyone is so friendly whether they know you personally or not.
Inclusion isn’t just a buzzword; it is a way of life.
Every single student has a role to play in every event that goes on in the school.
You can joke with the staff and they won’t judge you.
That might sound odd, but for example, my son grinds his teeth and to be honest the noise of it would drive you up the walls. I am able to joke about this in a way that I wouldn’t dare joke about it with ‘outsiders’ - the teachers in specialised schools just get it.
They are so supportive.
You won’t find a stronger advocate than the school community - they are amazing.
It doesn’t feel like a typical school but it’s not special - it’s a specialised school and there is a difference.
The school sees each child, not the diagnosis - Ethan's school have always seen Ethan first and foremost. They know what Ethan is like and have never associated any of his personality with his syndrome or autism. I appreciate that and it definitely makes me feel like they see Ethan.
The other parents,
There are no ‘mammy cliques’ - everyone may not know everyone but after five minutes of sitting in the hall waiting for the Christmas show to start, everyone starts talking and asking ‘which one is yours?'.
Funnily enough, we all seem to know who the child is when the name is said which is due to the transportation on route to and from school and the fact that there are only 4-6 children in each class. It’s nice knowing who is in class with your child.
These guys in a specialised school are almost like nurses. They know all there is to know about my son and how to feed him if they feel he is not himself.
They are the ones who contact the amazing school nurse and are often the first ones to spot that a cold is on its way. There’s a huge amount of trust placed on them and in my experience, those guys fulfil their role beyond their pay grade.
The bus journey.
I have had some of the nicest chats with Ethan's bus driver and his bus aid in the mornings and afternoons. They are entrusted with one big chunk of my heart daily and I feel they know that. They are always smiling, always happy and often have me laughing about Ethan's antics on the bus to and from school.
I could write a lot more but I will leave you with this final thought - if you are told that your child may need a specialised school, please visit a few different ones to ease the worry or anxiety you may be feeling - these schools will bring out the best in your child and showcase their abilities for the whole community to see.
They will see your child.