Posts Tagged ‘International school’
One of the great things about international schools (and the reason I push so hard for them to admit Pudding), is that every kid there knows what it is like to be different. Sometimes we have had excellent teachers who worked hard to include Pudding. Sometimes, the kids themselves have stepped up. The last year here has been challenging in a number of ways, but one thing I never had to worry about was other students not accepting Pudding.
We don’t have any explicit social skills teaching here, for better or for worse, but Pudding does have an excellent aide to help her navigate the social world at school. Though her methods for interacting are sometimes perceived as unusual, Pudding has always been socially motivated. And where she has a will, she will always find a way.
Soon she had a close set of girls in her class who became friends. In class they would sit around her. At concerts, sports days, and assemblies they would support her, in a non-intrusive and accepting away. They found her level and they met her there. Her friend Ana* was a natural at this, perhaps having observed her mother, an occupational therapist who had previously worked with children on the autism spectrum.
Last year Pudding wasn’t allowed to participate in Spanish classes, which was a great source of frustration for us all. When I would collect her after lunch, she was often visibly (and audibly) distressed at having to leave her friends. One day her friend Sofia* drew her a picture of the two of them to let her know she was missed too. And so began a correspondence between the two, that continues to this day.
On days that Pudding had a hard time leaving, she now began sending notes to the kids going to Spanish lessons. And here is where things get really special- they sent them back. Concrete reminders that she was accepted and missed. She belonged. I would often find caring notes and pictures from kids in her grade I had never met before. Her ability to connect with children even beyond her close set of classmates.
Sometimes the acceptance took a while longer, but resistance is futile. Pudding took a shine to Cho*, a boy in her class last year, and he was pretty intimidated by the strength of her not-so-subtle affections. Over the course of the year, he went from avoiding her to becoming a good friend.
One of the bad things about international schools, is that most children who attend them do so on a temporary basis, like us. So recently we had to say goodbye to Ana and Cho. It feels no exaggeration to write that Pudding was heartbroken. Pudding worked through her feelings by sending notes.
In the meantime, Pudding’s friendship with Sofia continued. The two progressed from sending notes and pictures to small gifts and tokens. At least once a week, Pudding would come home from school with a gift bag from Sofia, and she would find or make items for Sofia in return. In time we have managed a successful play date, and both Sofia and Pudding are looking forward to the next one.
But she still misses her friends who have moved on. When I mentioned that another mother was going to visit Ana and her family her native country, Pudding knew exactly what to do- she would send gifts to go with her. She carefully selected items, wrapped them in paper she decorated herself, and sent them to Ana. I just heard today that Ana was delighted to receive her present. She was sad that her friends in Argentina had forgotten her, and Pudding’s gift was a concrete reminder that she is loved and missed.
The school has allowed her to attend Spanish lessons now, and she keeps finding other ways to connect with new friends. Her ways aren’t always conventional, but her sentiment is sincere and unmistakeable. Every effort is a gift.
*Not their real names. Neither is Pudding, in case you didn’t know!
I’m not worried.
Pudding is coming up to the last month of Kindergarten. She has been supported, praised, held and loved. And now it is time for her to move up to first grade.
I’m not worried.
She has made friends, in her own way, and those kids have accepted her and liked her. Perhaps some will stay in the same class with her. Maybe she’ll make new friends. I’m not worried.
Her current teacher is arranging for us to meet the next one. She will prepare social stories and prep Pudding , and maybe even the new teacher, as best she can. I wonder if she is worried. I’m not.
Just as we’re looking at the next step with Pudding, our eyes are also a little further on the horizon. It isn’t just next year we have to plan for, in the same school, but our next move. Our next country. Maybe even a whole new continent.
And still, I’m not worried.
Because I know she can do it. I’ve seen her, time and time again rise up to new challenges, and develop resilience, confidence, and the skills she needs to succeed. I know now, I know, that with time, supports, and preparation, she is equal to anything.
I think I knew it even before we moved to Johannesburg- this was just testing our hypothesis. Being prepared to run other experiments if we didn’t succeed the first time. Knowing that there is always another way…we just had to find the best way, for her. And we did.
And we will again.
I’m not worried.
I’m ready. Just like my girl.
So today was finally the day. My nerves have been wracking for weeks as I faced up to the challenge of public speaking. I’d been asked to participate in a conference on international inclusion, and as much as my instincts have me running away from such opportunities, I decided to follow the example my girl sets me every single day: I got out of my comfort zone.
The conference had started yesterday, but Pudding was down with what turned out to be a double ear infection, so she took priority. Spectrummy Daddy took today off work instead so I could still do my bit. I got talking to the lady at the table next to me, a principal of an international school. Before long she revealed that her daughter is also diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and now doing really well- not just in college, but spending a year abroad in Paris. I felt that feeling of connection that we spectrum parents always feel when we meet. We’re never alone.
Part of the day the conference participants were divided up into groups to see learning support in action, but I wasn’t placed in group, so I did the “mummy tour” of just the bits that were relevant to Pudding’s education. I got to check out “Pudding’s office” which is also known as the sensory room. There I learned how Pudding manages her sensory needs in school (just the same as at home, really) and the awesome Ms. B reiterated how much she loved working with Pudding.
I had a bit of free time, so I sat near Pudding’s classmates as they ate lunch. The teaching assistant for Pudding’s class was there, and we’d recently discussed how she was hoping to continue as the teaching partner in her classroom next year. Not only that, but she was fighting with a few other teaching partners who also had their eye on working with Pudding next year! How far we have come, from schools that wouldn’t admit her and teachers who couldn’t work with her, to a place where she is accepted and loved for who she is.
Next I moved to Pudding’s classroom, where her teacher presented a slideshow of videos about Pudding and how our inclusion project is working out. The video ended with one of Pudding’s classmates sagely noting that “she learns from us.” It kind of sums up inclusion in a sentence. What this little girl hasn’t realized yet, though, is that she is also learning from Pudding.
One of my favourite parts of the day was the student panel. A group of middle and high school students talked about their experiences of inclusion: the diversity here included South African children on scholarships, as well as those receiving learning support. These students were incredibly articulate, and could detail the many benefits they received from an inclusive education. It was a showcase of all that is great about the school, and fascinating to me considering that not long ago some of these kids wouldn’t have even been admitted to the school.
And then it was my turn. I’d love to say that I conquered my nerves, but that isn’t the way these things work. I did, however, acknowledge those nerves- it is just part of who I am, and as I neared the end of my presentation, I found that the shakiness in my voice had almost disappeared. I talked about our experiences- both positive and negative- with special education, I talked about how this school had initially rejected Pudding for pre-K, our conditional acceptance into Kindergarten, and the incredible successes we have enjoyed ever since.
Everyone at the conference responded really positively to what I had to say. The director of the school hadn’t known that we were initially rejected from his school, and wished to speak to me privately. He reiterated that the school was developing and learning how to really build a community. International schools can only really do that when they’re allowing all of us to be part of that community.
It was time to leave, but not before more I met with more educators and faculty members who told me that our story further resonated because they too were parents of children with learning differences. We are all connected, in some intangible way by our experiences. Here in South Africa they call it Ubuntu: a philosophy that can be summed up by ‘I am what I am because of who we all are.’ I think these international schools are going to be whole lot better because of who we all are. And including us- as parents to speak at conferences, and as children to be educated- is going to make them the best that they can be.