LIFE AT SCHOOL
Over the past year, I've had a lot of parents asking me what life would be like during school as someone with a disability. This one is always a hard one for me to advise on because as for a lot of things, everyone’s experience is different, but I’m going to try my best to give you an overview/understanding of my personal experience.
DIFFERENT SCHOOLS FOR DIFFERENT AGES:
Here in the UK, we have 2 main stages of education one being Primary School education and other being Secondary School education, my experience of these were very different. I found 2 key points in my experience of Primary School: the first being that I didn't mind a teacher/ TA supporting me and I didn't mind the attention from it. The second being, some parents might find this difficult to hear, is I found that children of primary school age are more accepting of my disability, as opposed to older children in Secondary School.
I understand that this may be unnerving for some parents to hear, however, I can only speak from my own experience. Since I left school in 2017 children have been exposed to disabilities and differences at a much younger age and on social media, which will hopefully have a positive effect.
I have to say my Primary School experience was a very good one, as I attended a mainstream school with all of the facilities to aid someone with a disability! It included an on-site physio, hydro pool and one to one TA support. Although, with my experience of working in a Special Education Needs department I'm aware that some of the support, listed above, is harder to come by due to the current circumstances the UK schools find themselves in with a lack of spaces. That being said my experience of primary school as mentioned above was a very good one where I got the support I required at that time in my life, while also being able to participate in most if not all activities, both learning and play. I think the only thing I found hard to participate in was football in the playground, then again that may have been because I was too good! The other big benefit was that one of my peers had diabetes themself which meant we were able to bounce off each other and share our struggles.
My advice to any parent with a child of primary school age that has additional needs is to contact your Local Authority, explain the situation and ask what support they can offer. It may also be worth involving your schools SECO to get a clear picture of what support the school itself can offer.
That's my experience of primary school, I have to say I feel my experience was average. There was a lot of learning and playing and developing social skills. I was extremely lucky with my Primary School and didn't really have too many issues. It was also beneficial that I had other disabled individuals in the school to learn from and bounce off, along with the very supportive staff at the school.
In regards to my Secondary School experience, I attended a mainstream Secondary School and followed the normal curriculum. One of the difficulties I faced were the changing of classes as it was very energy-sapping and time-consuming, however, the school I attended had lessons of an hour and a half meaning we only had to do this 4 times a day.
The other difficulty I faced was the change in the amount of support I was given i.e not one to one rather 1 to 4, however, I now view this as a positive thing. It helped me develop my independence and ability to think on my feet.
The other difficulty I faced was the elephant in the room - bullying. I have to say, I experienced a fairly minimal amount of this, however, it did have an impact on me. I think it was a lot of young people trying to find their feet and trying to fit in. Obviously, if your child does come home stating they’re being bullied you can follow the schools normal procedure. However, if I could give one piece of advice to a young person when joining secondary school, it would be to focus on finding a group of friends where you truly fit in, feel comfortable and who support you, rather than following the often trend of trying to get in with “the popular kids”. I say this because this was the exact situation I found myself in during Secondary School.
This isn't me saying you can't be part of the “popular kids”, but be aware of why you want to be their friend and how they treat you or make you feel. I found that once I found a group of friends that I could truly be myself around school became a lot more enjoyable.
Of course, that can be difficult, but even if it is one or two friends, it is better to be in with a group that you feel comfortable and supported by, than a large group who treat you differently and aren’t there for you.
ADVICE FOR PARENTS:
In terms of the advice that I'd give to parents, it is very difficult for me to comment as I don’t have children but, as someone who has been through school with a disability and additional support, I would recommend just following the normal process of supporting your child through the ups and downs. They will feel their way through it and find what works for them. You may also find that they grow up a little bit quicker because of the challenges. In addition to this, as mentioned above, try research what support is available to them through the school and local authority as it will really help them in the long rung. You may be able to find additional information to this on your local offer website. Having said this I would like to mention, practically if your child is of secondary school age, is make sure the support they receive isn’t too intrusive if possible. As you don’t want them to feel claustrophobic or isolated which obviously no one wants.
I now this blog may be a lot to take in, but remember I can only speak from my experiences and no two school experiences are the same, so I don’t want what I’ve written above to worry you, rather I want it to give you an insight of what it was like from the other side. Meaning you can support your loved ones in the best way possible.
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