We were happy to have Dexter's story shared, so more people might learn about cerebral palsy and how mainstreaming kids with disabilities is possible.
Dexter has full time aid and participates in every school activity.
He loves it!
My son lines up, with his Kindergarten classmates, each morning. I'm so proud. There were many people who believed this would never happen.
Dexter has severe quadriplegic cerebral palsy. He is in a wheelchair and is nonverbal. Dexter has cortical vision impairment. Because of his cerebral palsy, Dexter is totally reliant on others, for feeding and toileting, as well as movement. My little boy is also a childhood cancer survivor, being four years clear of hepatoblastoma.
So, when people asked which school Dexter would be attending, many expected me to say he would be attending one of the local special needs schools.
This was never my intention.
I knew my son could understand everything I said to him. I believed he could learn. I wanted him in a mainstream kindergarten.
Our local school is perfect. It's flat. It's relatively small. It was my husband’s primary school. Dexter was going to that school. I had my heart set on it. I knew it could happen.
The year before Dexter started kindergarten, we started meeting with the staff at the primary school. I introduced them to Dexter and explained his needs. They watched him, to see what cues he responded to and they learned to read his sounds and body language. The transition to primary school had begun.
The school set aside a considerable amount of time, to best prepare all of us for a smooth transition to school. Dexter's severe disabilities can be very intimidating. With the meetings we had, the school staff were able to start to get to know Dexter, which meant they started to see him. The disabilities became something to work with, rather than an overwhelming challenge.
And Dexter? Dexter was so excited.
The school was incredibly supportive and positive. They arranged for a few alterations to be made, to better include and care for Dexter. They set a bathroom up with a hoist and change table, to support Dexter's toileting needs. They ensured disability parking was available and put a ramp in the only place that needed it.
The staff met one morning, giving me the opportunity to share with them Dexter's history. They were incredibly supportive and I felt very positive about the choice we had made. This was the right school for Dexter.
But, in the weeks leading up to Dexter's first school day, people were asking me where I was sending Dexter. Almost everyone expressed real surprise when I said he was going to a mainstream school. I was met with confused stares and conversations seemed to stop. No one knew how to respond. Their confusion and doubt made me start to question my decision.
Was I sending Dexter to a mainstream school for him, or for me?
Was I being selfish?
Was I doing the wrong thing?
Would Dexter be ok in a mainstream school?
After sleepless nights and days of doubting myself, I asked a lady who knew Dexter. She was a lecturer in the area of inclusive early childhood. Her response? Mainstream schooling was the right choice. Dexter can learn. Dexter is clever, he just needs technology to catch up with him.
And so, mainstream kindergarten...
Dexter was so excited! He was embraced by his school. The students, teachers and staff were all so welcoming. While I was afraid Dexter was going to be stared at, everyone was coming over to say hello. My husband and I were hearing "Hi, Dexter!" all around the school. His communication switch was set to ‘Good morning!” and he hit that button over and over and over again. Dexter was telling the whole school he was there.
We were so proud. We were so grateful. We were so relieved.
We expected Dexter to be exhausted, with five full school days a week. Instead, he was so excited and had so much more energy. He became more vocal, trying to tell us all about his days.Dexter has learned additional sounds, from his daily sound work. He stayed up longer at night, excited for the next day. He was so happy. Dexter was showing us that we had made the right choice.
Dexter’s classmates are incredible with him. They don't seem to notice his wheelchair. They don't seem to hear his 'talking'. They are patient with him. His classmates see Dexter. They are already finding ways to include him and interact with him. We love seeing them with an arm casually slung over his wheelchair, or an arm brushing against Dexter’s. We are grateful that they speak with Dexter, even when Dexter doesn’t answer with words. The kids know Dexter will have a new knock knock joke on his communication switch, each day. They laugh and enjoy the jokes with him.
The other students are still saying hi, when they walk past Dexter. He is just one of the kids.
The staff have continued to be amazing. Dexter has full time support and his teachers all believe in him. At times, his disabilities can be a little intimidating, but the teachers are determined to find the best ways for Dexter to learn and thrive.
So far, Dexter has enjoyed a Kindergarten excursion, even riding the bus with his classmates. He has enjoyed the school Color Run, getting covered with colour and doing laps in his wheelchair. Dexter loved his athletics carnival; winning the 100m run because his support teacher wouldn’t give up. He joined every activity. And, he talked all afternoon. Dexter loves school.
He is showing improvement with his vision, focusing and looking with more deliberation. He has learned more sounds. He has friends. He loves maths.
While I watched his Easter Hat parade with tears in my eyes, the heartache of seeing Dexter having to be pushed around the circle while his friends were running and dancing, I know mainstream schooling was the right choice. We got incredibly lucky; Dexter’s school is totally inclusive and his teachers are incredible. We know there will be many difficulties and a lot more heartache to come, but Dexter is loving school.
Mainstreaming him was the perfect choice.
Read about his first day at Kindergarten: I’m a Kindy Kid!