When it became apparent that our little girl would not be able to attend mainstream school owing to the level of her disabilities, we adjusted our ideas and hopes for her and began to explore what options were open to us. In our county, there are two special schools, one of which caters for her level of disability. It is an excellent school and she is very happy and settled there. There are some things that I hadn’t really thought about prior to her starting school that you miss out on when your child attends special school. Some are small, but not insignificant, others are quite big.
1. School gate chats and getting to know other parents. Our daughter’s school is 26 miles from home. She, like most of the other children who attend the school, is driven in by bus. That obviously takes a great strain off parents but it also means you miss out on the informal chats and networks that often develop amongst parents. Our school has a good Parents’ Association, but again the distance can make it hard for people to attend meetings.
2. Usually you have no choice about which school your child attends. Now I know that many parents around the country whose children attend mainstream school have very few – if any – options. But when your child has to attend special school, it feels like the idea of even HAVING options goes completely out of the window. Parents of children in mainstream schools may wish their child to attend a certain school for religious reasons, or they want education through the medium of Irish, or they want a school in a particular geographical area, or one with smaller classes. Whichever of these reasons is paramount to them (and of course many parents are perfectly happy with their local national school, which is great), at least they have options they can investigate. That option is not open to parents whose children have to attend special school. As I said our county has two special schools, but only one caters for children with our girlie’s level of disability. So that was our only ‘option’.
3. Your child may well have a lot of travelling to get to and from school. In our case, as I said above, the school is 26 miles from home. That means she leaves home at 8am and is back around 3.30pm. That is quite a long day for a small child, and she was only just over 6 when she started there.
4. The thing of not getting to mix regularly with other parents means that you don’t get to know the parents of your child’s classmates. So organising to meet up outside of school – which can be a great social thing for both parents and children – is often non existent. And inviting your child’s classmates to a birthday party? How, when you don’t even know their parents?
5. It takes your child away from their home community. That means that other children of her age in our town don’t know her and she doesn’t know them. That means no playdates (much harder with a child with special needs, I know), no involvement in our local school which is a big part of any community.
Please don’t misunderstand me, we are very happy with our school, our daughter is very settled there and has made fantastic progress since she started. I hope this post doesn’t come across as a ‘poor me’ post, its not meant to. Its just that there is so much that we all expect to experience as part of parenthood, that for those of us whose children attend special school, we can never have.