My daughter, Audrey, has Down’s syndrome. She is 5 years old and has started reception at mainstream school.
The process started with an Education Health Care Plan and an application for deferred entry. Audrey is a summer born baby and we didn’t want her to be one of the youngest in her year, on top of having a developmental delay. Deferred entries are accepted at the discretion of the local authority and school; they consider an application on the child’s date of birth and/or if they have any special needs. Since Audrey fitted both criteria, we had the deferral accepted and then applied a year later for her place at the school.
I visited the Head of Inclusion and Audrey’s class teacher to explain that language matters.
Following her confirmed place at school, we (her parents, her nursery, the local authority, speech and language therapist, the inclusion support service, and the school) came together to ensure that Audrey had a smooth transition into school.
It started with some books themed around school and, given that Audrey loves Topsy and Tim (story books and the television programme), the episodes around school were a great way to get her excited about attending. Then came visits to the school, meeting her teachers and individual needs assistants, and Audrey being given a book from the school containing pictures of the classroom, playground, and all the aforementioned key staff. The more comfortable she was with the idea of school, the better.
Audrey followed the settling-in process of that of her typical peers. Staggered, short days for one week and then full-time attendance.
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It didn’t all go entirely smoothly. At my first meeting with her Individual Needs Assistant, she used incorrect language immediately. She told me she had been working with another “Down’s kid” at the school and had previously worked in a special school with “loads of Down’s kids”. I was crushed inside, not confident enough to correct her, instead feeling sick that this was the woman the school had chosen to care for my precious daughter. Correct language issues aside, it was also the way in which my child had been grouped together with other children because of a common condition; she was not being considered as an individual.
I visited the Head of Inclusion and Audrey’s class teacher to explain that language matters. They reassured me that the Individual Needs Assistant was the right person for the job and that they would roll out the correct language training to all staff. I felt listened to and supported, and I believed they would do the best for my daughter; I reiterated that she isn’t “Down’s syndrome”, she just has it.
Only a month into school, Audrey is still very much enjoying her time. She brings home reading books which have no words which encourages her to tell a story from the pictures - which is something she is already very good at. She is enjoying school dinners and loves to play ‘doctors’ in the area set up for this in the classroom.
Her Individual Needs Assistants (she has one in the morning and one in the afternoon) are there to help her with any physical challenges; she is almost toilet trained, she is slow and steady on stairs, and still struggles to navigate obstacles. They also encourage Audrey's learning (she can lose focus) and help her make friends because she is often more inclined to chat to adults rather than her peers.
It is all still very new, but we believe that this mainstream environment is just what Audrey needs at this stage of her life to help her progress, but more than that, she will be an asset to her class because inclusion has a positive impact on all children.