That's the question that's running through my mind today....like a broken record. Is it wrong to want more? Not for me, for Ayla. Which I guess is for me too.
I've been feeling a little hesitant lately about everything to do with Ayla. I guess she's just coming to that age where I have to make decisions about her future and decide what is best for her. The ironic thing is that I had already done all of this. In Queensland, I knew we had Ayla in all the right places and that the school we had chosen for her was the right place too. Don't get me wrong.....I am really liking Canberra a lot and although I am missing friends, I am very happy to be here. I'm just not happy with the choices that we have for schooling.
In Queensland, Ayla was attending Xavier Special Ed which is the only Conductive Education institution in Queensland and only 1 of 3 in the country. The kids were worked from the time they stepped into the classroom until the time they left for the day. They had playtime but it was always very structured and incorporated into a task. Ayla learnt that although her body had limitations, she could work with them to achieve the outcomes that she wanted. From 9 months of age, Xavier was teaching Ayla how to roll onto her stomach and flip her legs over the side of a table or couch in order to get down safely. It's taken a long time (she's 5 now), but we watched her do this for herself just the other day.
Today we visited a Specialist School here in Canberra and joined in with their 'programme' for the day and I have to say that I am disappointed that my suspicions seem to be correct. From my observations today, their 'programme' seems to be nothing more than moving from one sensory experience station to the next. Before anyone shoots me down.....I know that this is just what some children need. I watched a little one today go from having her eyes pretty much closed and not taking part to being wide awake and excited when they took her into the sensory room. The room is full of pretty lights, soft relaxing music, bean bags etc. But this is ISN'T what Ayla needs. Yes, she was happy to sit in the bean bag and play with a toy....but she can do that at home! I have always had a suspicion that Special Schools tend to cater for the children who have the greatest disability. And that's great....that way those kids aren't left behind. But it doesn't have to be that way and Xavier proved that to us. Here's an example....
At Xavier, there were a few kids with some very major disabilities. These kids literally struggled to do anything for themselves at all, not even holding their own toy. But these kids were brought into exactly the same programme as Ayla. Yes, they needed more help but they were worked just as hard and encouraged to always move forward in their achievements.....and believe me they achieved. They knew right from left, if they were asked to bend their right leg they gave it a red hot go and you could see it. If they were asked to raise their head, they did their best with that too. They were helped to 'step' between work stations and were expected to take part in hand tasks too. Those kids were worked and they learnt how to use their bodies to the best of their abilities.
At the school we visited today (and we visited previously too), there was none of this. On a previous visit, those children with the most severe of disabilities were to be found lying quietly on a bed with teachers and teacher aides passing by. Not good enough. Today, Ayla and I arrived after everyone had already settled (about 45 mins into the programme). When we arrived, the kids were 'finger painting' on the table with a non-toxic paint. It looked promising because it was an activity they used at Xavier as a hand task too, but the similarities ended there. At morning circle they welcomed all the kids and they had to find their name and put it on the board. They sang one song (count them.....1!) and then moved down to the gym/sensory room. The gym is awesome! There are 2 trampolines, big supersoft fall mats, rope swings, wall ladders, slides....fantastic!!!! And completely under-utilised with this group! Far out, if Xavier had this equipment they would have thought all their Christmases had come at once and every single piece of equipment would be used for the benefit of ALL the kids. Ayla and I had a little play on the trampoline and then were asked to join some others in the sensory room. Nice but boring. And it was at this stage that I had to work really hard to keep the tears from coming and remain polite to everyone. Then it was back to the classroom for lunch time and outside play. Lunch time....the kids were just fed and some of the teacher's went off for a break. I'm not knocking the break but at Xavier....all hands were on deck to help the children with feeding and learning to feed themselves. Outside play, the more able bodied kids played on swings and bikes and the least able-bodied we wheeled to a spot in the yard to watch the other kids play. Not good enough!
I know at this age, it's all about play. That was constantly repeated to me all day. But with kids, work is play! The kids at Xavier played....but it was structured play and they loved it. Come on People!!!! This is supposed to be EARLY INTERVENTION!!!! I'm sorry, I'm just not seeing it.
So again I ask.....Is it wrong for me to want more??? I know the answer is NO. But where do I go from here? This school would be perfect if I was looking for somewhere to 'put' Ayla....but I want more. I want Xavier and I can't have it. Lots of people recommend just having Ayla in mainstream schooling....but she needs more than that too. She deserves more.....I just don't know how to give it to her.
There is something so magical about snow. The silent drift of snow falling to the ground, snow drifts perched precariously in the branches of trees and shrubs, that pristine cover of white that's so sparkly and fresh, the squeals of children and adults alike as they zip down the slopes, rosy cheeks, steamy breath, drippy noses.....and then there's the sound of Ayla, who didn't really enjoy the snow as much as we had hoped:) LOL! It's kind of understandable.....she didn't have the best start.
Within 20 minutes of arriving, I had already sat her on the toboggan, up against a wall so that I could fix up the boot that kept falling of her foot......enter that 'magical' snow drift that was clinging 'precariously' to the roof! Yep.....PLONK! Straight on her head! The look of shock on her face was priceless and it probably didn't help that Steven and I cracked up laughing. Add to that the conditions. I put it out to the universe that I wanted snow to be actually falling so that Ayla could experience it all....and fall it did....in blizzard fashion :). It didn't stop snowing all day and was the heaviest that I had experienced (apparently they have a blizzard up there today) and the breeze was quite strong too, so that the snow was somewhat 'whipped' into your face and eyes. We didn't have goggles and they were the sort of conditions where you really did need a ski mask and none of us had one.
But we soldiered on and went for a few runs on the toboggan. At this stage Ayla still wasn't enjoying herself so we decided to go inside and have lunch. According to Ayla, lunch and the DVDs on the way home were the best part of the day! It wasn't all bad though. We dressed her up again after lunch, grabbed that toboggan, avoided the snow drifts on the roof and spent the best part of 90 mins going up and down the slope. And we even saw her crack a smile a few times on the way down the hill.....and when you think about it, that was exactly the reason we took her!
It was absolutely worth the 6 hours of driving for the day and we plan to do it again next year for a few days. We'll need babysitters though......anyone??? Mum? Dad?? :) There is no way that Steven and I could visit the snow again and not get on a board.....it was a little torturous to watch the boarders and then walk away from them at the end of the day.
So, we know what we need to take to make it more enjoyable for Ayla next time. We know to stay away from the outer walls of buildings. And we know that Ayla is going to learn to LOVE the snow.....cos her Mummy and Daddy do! For me, the snow will never lose its MAGIC.
The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu was once quoted as saying, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". It's a nice saying.....although when I think that this guy was supposed to be around from 604BC -531BC, I have to say I'm questioning whether that's what he said! Did they even talk in miles then???? Anyway, here in our new home in Canberra, our Journeys begin every time we get in the car :)
Last week we decided to go 'Snow' Hunting.....we weren't terribly successful finding any snow but we had a good time tripping around the place. The day before we could see snow in the Brindabellas and a few people suggested we go up to a place called Corin Forest where they regularly get snow.......but not this time around. So instead, we visited Corin Dam which supplies Canberra's potable water. We could see snow over on the next mountain but we really had driven far enough that day so we admired it from the VERY chilly edge of Corin Dam. It was really windy and the temp would have to have been very close to zero. I had gloves on and my hands were still hurting from the cold! Corin dam was at the end of the road that we had been travelling on so we decided to stop at a couple of places that we had seen on the way up the hill.
We headed down to Gibralter Falls next. Apparently, the most accessible waterfall in the area! Ah no....actually it's not. I think we made it about 15m into the walk before we decided that it wasn't terribly 'accessible' with Ayla :). It was all rocks and steps....maybe they had a different idea of what 'accessible' was cos it was kinda like Sydney.....NOT accessible. So plonked ourselves on a big rock and watched the view while listening to the waterfall and soaking up some beautiful winter sunshine. Ayla even discovered some moss on the rock and was quite taken with the way it felt.
And our last stop, on the way home was a little reserve in Tidbinbilla. We stopped at the information centre and then decided we would come back another day as Ayla was making it known that she was MORE than ready for a nap.....so, next time.
And although that was the end of our Adventure that day....we are off on another on Tuesday. We are heading up to Selwyn Snowfields for the day to take Ayla toboganning and for her first ever play in the snow. We can't wait! And she's just going to have to push through nap time for a second wind because we will probably arrive at the snow about an hour before nap time.....wish us luck!
The link to this blog post was posted on Facebook today. It's a long read. Sometimes painful because there are very slight similarities with feelings that arise when you parent one of our kids. But then, you find yourself thinking.....Holy SHIT! We have a good life and you feel for this poor soul and her daughter. And then, right at the end, you no longer think of her as a poor soul......because there are times when she doesn't.