Our little girl started primary school today. Today, Georgia went off to school like any other 6 year old. I am so thankful that the school we have chosen is very pro-active and inclusive. So many of the schools that I have heard about have not been as welcoming to children with special needs and yet this school is looking forward to the challenge of helping Georgia to learn. When it comes to decision making, I am one of those people who likes to prepare. I investigate and analyse, research and finally make my choice. It might take me longer than most, but when the decision is made I stick to it. This is a good thing, usually, when you are making those decisions that are important. Not such a good thing when you are talking about buying clothes (I usually decide that I like a ‘look’ two years after it’s in fashion – and then have trouble getting it!).
That being said, the decision where to send Georgia to school was based mostly on gut instinct. My very first impression of the school was the Assistant Principal’s almost fanatical pride in her school and how it was the absolute best place for Georgia. Every dealing I have had in the twelve months since that first meeting has only reinforced that feeling. Today is only the first day, but I really feel confident that Georgia’s schooling life has started on the right track.
We arrived at school early, so we could acquaint ourselves with her classroom, her table, where to store her lunch and hat. We checked out where Georgia’s equipment would be stored and then we made our way to the floor in front of the teacher’s chair. I helped Georgia’s aide sit her down with her leg wraps on and brushed her hands, preparing her for ‘mat time’. Soon after, Georgia’s teacher opened the doors to allow the other Prep children to come in with their parents, for their first day. All of a sudden there was thirty or forty people in the small room, camera’s flashing, recording this very first class. I saw no tears from the parents, unless of course, they saved them from the children and waited until they had left. The children all seemed quite excited to be starting, a few didn’t even turn to wave as their parents left. I was staying, to help train the aides, so I was privileged to be there at this time.
In the past two years, when Georgia attended kindergarten, this process of new situations has been a little tougher. In her first year of kinder, I had to stay for two weeks and it was well into the second week before she would open her eyes to look around. In her second year of kinder, the fears were the same, and she hid her face in my chest for the first week. Today, it was like she knew she was a big girl. She sat quietly on the mat, in the circle with her new classmates and didn’t once try to cuddle and hide in my lap. She accepted her integration aide’s assistance and direction without complaint. I was so proud! In fact she was so accepting that I was able to leave and have a coffee in the staff room. This may sound strange, even a little precious, considering all the other parents left soon after they had dropped their children off; but Georgia has always had trouble adjusting to new faces, new rooms, lights and noise. She has always been so clingy to me and would sometimes close her eyes and hide her face just to avoid looking at people.
So now, when she’s safely tucked into bed after her very busy first day, I can reflect on how far she has come. When she was born she was extremely tactile defensive. She would pull away if you tried to touch her hand or skin, even at a very young age. She wouldn’t touch anything that was soft or furry, and refused to touch food at all. When she started to move a little on the floor, at age 2 and a half, she turned her hands over so the palms of her hands wouldn’t come into contact with carpet or the floor. Now, she crawls on all fours, touches play-doh, sand and food, things unheard of just two years ago. I have very few photos of Georgia looking up because she would close her eyes and hide her face if the camera came near her. Now, we can say to her, “Georgia, look up at the camera” and she lifts her face. She is still learning the motor planning process to smile on cue, but at least she doesn’t look away. She truly has come far. An awful lot has to do with her reaching some new developmental milestones, albeit more slowly than other children. But I know also, that it is due to the wonderful dedication and huge amount of experience and knowledge of the therapists at CPEC. They really are the most informative and dedicated people I have ever met and we are so truly blessed that we live in Australia and have them on our doorstep. It was while I was preparing for Georgia to start school that I realised, how much I have learned in the 5 years that Georgia attended early intervention. I see now, so much more than I did when we started, how important it is to teach the parents, so they become the experts. The experts in their child.
I don’t know what’s ahead for us. I don’t have a crystal ball, as handy as it would be. Georgia may well thrive in this new environment, with so much more interaction with ‘mainstream’ children and in the most inclusive of settings. I truly, truly hope so, and hope that Georgia’s best is yet to emerge. I hope that in 7 years’ time when she is due to start the next phase of her schooling life, secondary college, that we will look back on these years as the best, most informative years of her schooling life. But for now, today was a good day, and we look forward to the next 12 months.