Home' Aurora : Aurora February 2013 Contents Georgia first,
While those associated with schools like
to think that most parents and students
are happy most of the time, it's perhaps
unusual for a parent to be so happy with her child's
experience that she takes steps to spread the good
news. What follows is Ros Talbot's response to the
education her daughter Georgia, 12, is receiving at
St Patrick's Primary, Lochinvar.
Georgia, the third of four children born to my husband
David and me, had developmental problems since birth,
with swelling at the back of the skull. Her language didn't
progress and when she was almost 2 she began having
seizures. At two and a half she lost the limited language
and skills she'd developed. She had many tests, saw
many specialists and was diagnosed with epilepsy. For
several years, Georgia only said four words, and only one
of those was recognisable and used in an appropriate
context. Accessing early intervention was difficult as the
system seems to find children like Georgia too challenging.
Fortunately, I had the skills and the knowledge to request
the programs to support Georgia's development. I used this
valued information to develop a therapy program at home. It
wasn't until she was 6 that she was diagnosed with autism.
When I was a young teenager, I lived not far from a home
for children with disabilities who couldn't be cared for in
their family homes. It seemed sad to me, so I would visit
the home and spend time with the children, take those in
strollers for walks and so on. I still remember reading a
letter to a young boy with cerebral palsy, from his mother
who lived in another state. He cried, and this changed me
as I learnt how children with severe disabilities understand
and comprehend their environment. Later I moved into
early childhood care, and now I see all those experiences
as preparation to be Georgia's Mum.
Educating Georgia has been challenging. People can think
that once there's a certain level of disability, the school
can't provide. St Patrick's Lochinvar stepped up and all
were willing -- learning support teachers Bettina and Mary
Jane, classroom teacher Amber, principal Peter, the team
at the Catholic Schools Office. They gave us the hope
that this can work. Every day, Georgia's shining more and
more. She's more confident, she has a connection with
the school as a community, a connection with friends, a
connection within the classroom, her sense of self worth
and achievement in the classroom has improved. Her
confidence and ease outside the classroom have grown
because she now has role models among her peers. Even
her various taxi drivers have noticed a huge improvement.
Georgia does things differently - that's the way she is. Her
ability to communicate and to use language has improved
markedly. She belongs in an inclusive, mainstream
community because she lives in a mainstream family.
When our other children's friends come
to our home, Georgia can now engage
more appropriately with them. She can
tolerate more sensory stimulation
because she's been exposed
to more stimulation on a
regular basis. The inclusive
school environment at
St Pat's is helping her in
her life away from school.
The teachers are building
stepping stones to success,
and every so often you move
the stones closer together, other times
you take them farther apart.
Since she's been at St Pat's, Georgia's
gained five kilos and that's a great
step forward for her. It tells me that
she's content here. Georgia accepts
who she is, but our biggest challenge
is her education. Children with autism
'can do', only a very small percentage
can't. It's been a wonderful experience
recently to hear Georgia report on some
news that she learned from participating
in a conversation with some of her
classmates. Maybe her version wasn't
entirely accurate -- not something
confined to those with autism -- but
the important thing is that she felt part of that exchange.
Georgia hasn't always had that.
I've learnt a lot along the way. The parents, the students,
the teachers have all accepted Georgia, and the gates
have been wide open. One Mum told me she was
glad that Georgia belonged to St Pat's. Bettina says,
"Georgia's meant to be
here." All the teachers
look out for her and
that means a lot to her
Dad and me, and to
adulthood and as
one of the children
said here, she can't
be in bubble wrap!
St Pat's is building
her capacity for
I couldn't be
I see what
Georgia's experienced as a living
out of the school's mission. Principal Peter Treloar is
more than happy for any assistance Georgia needs to be
provided; for example, a psychologist is working with her
to encourage protective behaviours, part of the transition
I mentioned earlier.
As a parent of a child like Georgia, you have to work
harder and be there. You have a responsibility and
if you want the best for her, you have to really
support the school so it can play its part. It's
such a relief to see people seeing Georgia
as a person first, and a child with a disability
The future? I haven't thought that far. I've
stopped planning too far ahead. I know what
I would like for her as an adult: to be happy, to
be confident, to have a measure of independence -- to
be able to catch a bus, shop, communicate effectively.
Someone actually told me that Georgia would never have
any friends! Who are we to determine what friendship is
for each person? Georgia has more to offer friends and
she is now defining her own friendships.
Georgia has a really uncomplicated life. If she's sad or
angry it is only for a moment, mostly she has a smile
on her face. St Patrick's understands the importance of
multi-disciplinary teams involved with the care of children
like Georgia. At times she has had more than one
psychologist or therapy service attending to her needs.
This has been well received at St Pat's.
Teacher Amber Wilkinson and learning support teachers
Mary Jane Millard and Bettina O'Heir are more than
happy to modify the curriculum so that Georgia's needs
are met and she's essentially following the same program
as the other students in Year 5. I now feel we have good
foundations for a brighter future. Disability or not, a
child's happiness is priceless.
If we don't believe in our children, believe that they can
achieve, how will they rise up?
BY ROS TALBOT
Teacher Amber Wilkinson with Georgia (bottom right) Mackenzie Winter (left)
and Tineka Rachubinski.
only said four
www.mn.catholic.org.au Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle
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