Two years ago today Isla started a new school.
I remember it like it was yesterday.
It became more and more obvious that Isla was different to the other children in her school. It became more and more obvious that school could not meet her needs. It became more and more obvious that Isla was having to be taught away from her peers and therefore wasn’t gaining the skills we had hoped she would in mainstream. It became more and more obvious that mainstream wasn’t the place for her.
It was time for her to move on and that decision broke my heart.
I had a meeting with the Head and Isla’s teacher and in that meeting I told them I wanted Isla to move to a special school. I sat in that meeting feeling strong, determined and confident in my decision but as I drove home I felt defeated and unsure. I began to doubt my intuition and felt guilty for taking Isla away from everything that was familiar to her. I walked through the door, broke down and sobbed all over my husband John.
This wasn’t what was supposed to happen, this wasn’t where I had wanted us to be.
I was forever worrying we had made the wrong decision. I was forever panicking that Isla would not cope with the transition. I was worried about her going on a bus, about her not being in our local school, about her not being at the same school as her brother and no longer a part of our community. I believed I had failed her.
It took me a long time to stop feeling that way.
Two years ago today the school bus pulled up, I took a sobbing Isla on to it, walked away and held it together long enough to watch the doors shut and the bus pull away.
And then I sobbed.
I sobbed for what felt like an eternity as I watched my vulnerable, non verbal, confused, upset five year old baby disappear on a bus full of strangers. I was her safe place, the person who made everything better and I had just sent her to a new place all alone and scared.
Consumed by sadness my heavy heart ached.
But I needn’t have worried, I needn’t have felt so sad, I needn’t have broken my heart.
I wish I knew then what I know now:-
I wish had known that Isla would love taking the bus to and from school.
Isla’s chaperone and bus driver have become so much more to her than just ‘people who take her to school’. Lynn and Elaine are Isla’s friends. Their job is not just a job to them. The kids are like their family and it shows. Isla’s trips to and from school are full of fun and laughter. Lynn and Elaine adore the children, and the children adore them too.
I wish had known that Isla would grow in confidence
Isla can be herself in special school, her own unique, amazing, happy self. She doesn’t have to fit in to where other people think she should, she doesn’t have to be like the other kids, she doesn’t have to tone down all of the things that make her special and wonderful, she doesn’t have to be the square peg being forced in to a round hole. Isla knows that she is loved, embraced and accepted for exactly who she is and because of that she can completely be herself.
I wish I had known that Isla would find her voice
When Isla left mainstream she had started to communicate the odd word. She could point at pictures in familiar books, point at familiar numbers or colours and tell you what they were. that was more than we were led to believe she would ever do and so we were beyond happy. What I didn’t anticipate is how quickly Isla would learn to communicate her needs using words once she had moved schools.
Isla’s speech has gone from strength to strength. Because she is in a special school that specialises in communication and tailors learning towards individual needs they have helped Isla find her voice. She may script and use echolalia a lot but her functional speech is improving with every day and her voice is the most beautiful sound in the world.
I wish I had known that Isla would learn so much
Isla has learnt a lot in her two years in special school from communication, to social skills, to maths, to English, to cooking, to painting, to life skills, she really has learnt so much. Why does she learn so much? Firstly Isla is now taught in very small classes with very large numbers of teachers and assistants. She always has someone there for her who isn’t busy with a huge class of other children. She isn’t being taught away from her peers, she isn’t ‘the different kid’, she isn’t a burden because she is one of 30 plus children who all need attention, she isn’t isolated, she isn’t busy trying to conform to schools protocol, trying to find her place and work out where she fits. She is confident, relaxed and trusts her teachers and is in the right frame of mind to learn. She is absorbing it like a sponge.
I wish I had known Islas behaviour would change
Isla was a very frustrated little girl in mainstream. She struggled to fit in, she struggled to communicate her needs, she struggled with the noise, she struggled with the routine, she just struggled. Her struggles, confusion and her frustrations led to her having meltdowns, shutting down, isolating herself, and lashing out. Isla hasn’t lashed out for so long I cant even put a date on it. She hasn’t had a meltdown since Easter 2017. She isn’t frustrated and confused. She just loves anything and everything. Everything makes her laugh. She enjoys outings more than anything, always wants to stay in hotels and loves us going out and about shopping, stopping for food and days out. She’s happiest when we are out and about. Things that used to be so difficult for her she now takes in her stride and actually enjoys. Changing school has completely changed her behaviour for the better.
I wish I had known that Isla would become a very different child
I used to break my heart daily over Isla. I cried a river over her. I was upset that Isla always seemed sad and lonely, locked in her own little world and I couldn’t make her happy, I couldn’t fix anything, I couldn’t get a glimpse of what was going on in her beautiful mind. I didn’t know how to help her. I thought that made me a bad mum.
Isla is not he same child now. She is the happiest child you will ever meet. Every single day is an adventure to Isla, every day is fun and full of exciting things to do. Every day she is with people who understand her and children like her. She is comfortable in her own skin and she is as happy as happy can be. Isla just loves life.
I wish I had known that Isla’s school are a family
Until I went in to Isla’s school and saw it for myself I would have never believed it. I had very different perceptions of what a special school is. I believed Isla wouldn’t get anything socially out of attending a special school, how wrong was I? She is such a social being now. Isla adores people (and they adore her too).
Every single person in Isla’s school is there because they love what they do, they love the children and it isn’t just a job. Everyone knows everyone. It is one small, very happy community. They all believe in one another, they are all cheering one another on. The whole school is just full of love and happiness, so much so you can actually feel it, you can sense it and its beautiful. I wish I could bottle the feeling you get when you are in the school, around the children, the teachers, the assistants, the admin team, the dinner time staff and pass it on to everyone because the world would be a much better place. You walk in to the school and you float out with a huge smile on your face.
I wish I had known that Isla would make friends
I always worried that Isla would never make any friends and would be lonely. She had a small group of lovely girls in mainstream who liked to be around her but I think that was because they wanted to look after her more than anything else.
Isla has formed very real, genuine friendships with the children in her class and her school over the last two years and what is beautiful about it is that they don’t even need words to enjoy each others company and show affection. Isla’s friendships are true, unconditional and born out of the purest of hearts.
I wish I had known that Isla changing schools would make us better individuals and stronger as a family
As individuals we are all much better people since Isla changed school. We are so much more relaxed knowing the phone isn’t going to ring every day with a call from school, knowing she is happy in school and so much happier in herself. It makes the world of difference not always waiting for and receiving negatives about your child but to hear so many positives, to not feel like your child is misunderstood, an inconvenience or having to fight for them constantly. To not feel exhausted by having to explain your child to people. To know your child is not just looked after but is actually a valued part of something. It makes our hearts happy.
John is as brilliant a dad as he has always been, Billy is an awesome brother and advocating for autism in ways I never believed a nine year old could and I have used my time to start blogging, run my support group and help others.
We have always done everything as a family but Isla is such a different child now that holidays are jam packed, full of fun and smiling faces and we’ve been able to holiday abroad which was one of the best weeks of our life. Isla wants to be around us, she wants to engage with us and play, not just because she feels safe with us but because she enjoys our company and wants to join in. She wants to learn and she wants to show us what she’s learning. She was in her own bubble two years ago and now she is very much a part of our world and it’s an absolute joy to be a part of hers.
Changing Isla’s school has been the making of her. It has given her the opportunity to learn, it has helped her find her voice, it has helped her make friends, it has helped her grow in confidence, it has helped her find herself, it has helped her lose her frustrations, it has helped her want to take part in things, it has helped her in ways I can not even begin to explain.
Isla is the very best version of herself because everybody in her home life and her school life believes in her, so she believes in herself. She knows her teachers and her family never gave up on her and never will.
Because of the people around her Isla has realised her own potential. She believes that she can, so she does.
Most importantly Isla is the happiest she has ever been because she is valued, embraced, loved and accepted for exactly who she is, the girl she was always meant to be.
I wish I could go back in time and tell myself two years ago that everything would be ok. That is would be more than ok, it would be amazing.
What has two years in a special school done for our daughter? It’s changed her life in ways I never knew possible, thank you will never be a big enough a word.