Sunday, 26 February 2012

A Leap of Faith...

As surely as if I had been nudged awake, I wake up and notice that I'd (again) nodded off on the sofa... It seems to have become a regular occurrence, since Mum (in-Law) went to India and I'm in-charge of my days (and nights!). After over two years of doing night shifts, I've hopelessly messed my sleeping pattern. Now, I just get some shut-eye for about three-four hours at a time, and then "..O O.." my peepers just fly open...
"Well today is Saturday, so there's no need to jump into the shower", I reminded myself, for beginning the (school-related) daily dash..

As the birds twitter outside, and the day breaks over the world (well, this part of the world, at-least), all I contemplate is whether to go running or biking, wake up the kids at eight or nine, and whether its better to let them wake up naturally... Idly, I reached out for my Samsung Notebook, which was on power-saving mode, with the favourites still open, earphones still plugged into my ears... I get up, brush my teeth, freshen up and sit down again, nestled comfortably under Raj's favourite downy, fleece white n blue blanket and start reading and writing- preparing to commit to memory the day that was...

It was the culmination of a long two weeks' wait, yesterday. I visited a School which I'm hoping, my daughter will soon join, flourishing in the care she'll receive there. This is not to say that her current School is inadequate;  it is, simply put, time to move on into the best environment for her today. Yes, it is a Special Needs school, and yes, my child, although as yet undiagnosed, is known to have significantly specific difficulties with her Gross and fine Motor Skills, Social Communication, Language (both expressive and receptive, i.e-in terms of speaking and understanding) and Proprioception and Behaviour...

In my understanding of the broad scope of the term ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), I suspect, as does her paediatrician, (although she's reluctant to put it in as an official diagnosis as yet), that my child is somewhere on the AS. She believes that Shivangi may, in future, present with a Dyslexic profile, and is, at present, struggling with her gross and fine motor skills and bi-lateral coordination (which explains her difficulty in writing, reading, eating etc).To the jargon-proficient this might sound easy enough, yet to those like me who seek to simplify things, especially when they are being used to describing my own child, it is a case of unscrambling the 'lingo' to get to the bottom of the intent. 

I arrived at the school with my children's school SENCO and Family Worker- a dear Lady and a genuinely warm person named Mrs Wendy Austin. The fact that Wendy offered to drive me there with them, instead of me taking a bus route into town and finding my own way to the school, was extremely sweet of her...(particularly because my 'time-window' was too narrow; school starts at 0845 and from the kids' school to the new school, a bus would have taken me atleast an hour....). As we reached the school and disembarked, i looked around the silent, peaceful grounds which were nestled along the edge of a hill. Vast grounds overlooked the valley beyond where the city lay, shrouded in the morning mist. The school was situated on a lovely hill-top with a panoramic view of the whole city below. I  looked around and not only liked what I saw, but also felt a peaceful feeling in my heart, that told me my baby would be really happy if she could play, learn, laugh and explore in this kind of an environment...! We walked in through the quiet reception, and waited to see the Headteacher, who emerged from her office to greet us with a lovely smile. We introduced ourselves and sat down and the SENCO told her about my reason for visiting. she asked me if I wanted to know something about the school, look around and walk through it with her, visiting classes, meeting children and teachers in classrooms and see how I felt?! I nodded, and then I tried to take-in and absorb what the headteacher said about the way the classes were run and the curriculum managed, around the school.

On my tour of the school, It looked truly special, from the relaxed, calm atmosphere, to the masterful works of art displayed on the walls- from a huge canvas- oil paints in all the primary colours splashed across, to mind-blowing effect, (as my 'design-orientated' eyes looked for abstract patterns and shapes) to a masterfully painted 'spider-man' like abstract one, done by a seven year old boy in ten odd minutes (The writing on the mount, in the frame told me as much)...In the small groups of children, in the teachers' interacting with two-three students in groups as they did their lesson-related activities and in the massive grounds, edged by tall trees, overlooking the city below beyond the fence, I could easily picture my child feeling more calm, participating,in, and more importantly, feeling good about the things the other children were doing.

Just as some plants need more attention and care to grow, whilst others thrive with the odd dash from a watering can, and grow like a weed, it is my belief as a mother, that some children need more support than others to realise their potential. These are the children who, by God's will or grace; call it what you will, are differently-able in life... These children are the chosen ones, the one thrown a 'challenge'  by God, to see how the rest of us 'lesser' mortals cope!! As a mother of a child with a difficulty, it is extremely hard to keep things in perspective sometimes. Others can get away with blaming her behaviour on her stubbornness, her naughtiness or her attitude on her behaviour; I can begin to make sense of it and react in the right way only by remembering she is not deliberately doing this...She is trying, her damned best to make head or tail of the world as she sees it. As her mother, I know she mimics speech, copies phrases, imitates reactions and mirrors affection. She smiles; a LOT...! She is affectionate, lovable and very closely connected with her 'emotional' self. She feels remorse, but vents her feelings like a volcano, she feels tidal waves of love and wants to hug us and others, but is sometimes so strong in her holding of people, they feel stifled. Then, their reaction hurts her feelings and she bursts into tears and screams out at us all... she can make me smile, just by virtue of me thinking of her! She can also make people laugh out loud; she has a terrific sense of humour and can even laugh at herself. 

For me, this is a massive Leap of Faith, across the chasm of my near and dear ones' doubts, aspersions, blame and guilt. I tried to reason, resolve and involve them, sharing the reports, the schedule of meetings, Parent Partnership coffee-mornings, appointments and therapy sessions which only I attended with her all these years...When all I got in reply was a "I have to go to work so I can't be with the two of you, but whatever you feel is right is right by me" (hubby) and "you're wrecking your own child's future by your own hands", and "I'll tell her, when she's grown -up, YOUR mum put you through all THIS..." (M-i-L)...I decided, in my heart- NOW I MUST DO... the TIME to THINK is over....My mind made up, I wrote to the relevant department, following my gut, my instinct and my heart, all of them telling me, in unison, to go for it! My letter done, the attachments printed, and the referrals made, I am waiting to hear from the lady whether or not it is going to work out all right. Besides, it has to be His (God's) will, too. 

In my letter, to Mrs. Rosie Newberry, at the Children and Learning Department, I wrote:

Dear Mrs Newberry,

I would like to apply for a place for my child, Shivangi Sarvaiya, aged 7.5yrs at Richmond Hill School, Luton. I took the opportunity to visit the school last month. This visit was facilitated by my daughter’s present school, Chantry Primary School, Luton. The visit was suggested by Ms V Lloyd, of Luton Parent Partnership, as a result of my observation of Shivangi’s behaviour at home and in my interactions with her teachers and T.As, Headteacher and Family Support Team at school. That she is not making progress, academically or otherwise, in the current Mainstream educational Setting, despite her School’s best efforts has been clear to me for some time now. 

Given her level of difficulties, she has had the dedicated 1to1 support in her classes and lessons (as suggested in her Statement of SEN). She also participates in and enjoys the activities and therapy she has been accessing both at school and in the community, such as Occupational Therapy, ‘BRAINBEATS’ Music Programme, PECS etc. However, she is still functioning way below her peer-age level and, as her mother, I suspect this has impacted negatively in her behaviour towards others, be they adults or children. It is a constant source of worry to me, that she should fall so far behind her educational curriculum that it becomes impossible to integrate her into an age-appropriate setting in future. It is with this worry that I have turned to you. I hope that in your experience, knowledge and understanding of children’s needs you may be able to see what I cannot resolve as just a mother and, in your capacity and role with the Department of Children and Learning can help me do the best for my child. 

Shivangi’s special needs have, no doubt, been adequately studied, identified and looked into and given the level of complexity of her needs and her age the Specialists’ Recommendations are being sincerely implemented both at home and school. Her Statement of SEN, states that she has difficulties with her gross and fine motor skills, proprioception, semantic and pragmatic language difficulties, and behavioural problems (mostly seen in her social Interactions) . She also mimics speech, copies peoples’ words or phrases, imitates reactions (if I get upset she gets upset, and if I get angry and reprimand her, she turns back instantly and says it right back to me!) but her biggest ‘gift’ is that she mirrors affection and loves giving hugs. She smiles a lot and talks to anyone she wants to, whether she knows them or not! She makes friends easily as well…

You may know all this from the relevant documentation of the professionals involved, their reports etc and I am probably not telling you anything new in that regard. My sole aim today is to tell you how and why I feel Shivangi would be fortunate to go to Richmond Hill School, come September. As a Special School in the Borough of Luton, it is quite remarkable. Richmond Hill School has a calm and relaxed atmosphere, something that Shivangi needs. I noticed, on my tour of the school, how classes were run, from the specialist resources, to lessons that were tailored specifically to the children’s individual needs. There was ample support from Teachers and T.As in classes with four or five adults and just eight or nine children in the classes. This would be ideal for my child, as she currently has adult support in class on most occasions. The lovely, spacious grounds of the school, with the vegetable garden, play equipment, outdoor activities organized for the children to participate in, all would be something Shivangi would greatly benefit from. I can easily picture my daughter feeling calm and participating in all these activities, and most importantly, feeling good about the things other children were doing, and being able to do them by herself, too.

The Head Teacher at Richmond Hill, Mrs Jill Miller mentioned how the school makes regular trips and visits to bring the children out in varied social settings and activities that familiarize them with the outdoors. The School organizes many trips to various kinds of educational and social settings, so that the children can become more comfortable in noisy, busy places, find their way around with adult guidance and supervision and feel more secure. It resonate with me as I too, try and take her out with me as much as I can, be it to Town, a Park, or simply grocery-shopping with me and each subsequent trip becomes a little more easier as she knows what to expect.

Her school, Chantry Primary School, has soldiered on, since she was in nursery, to provide her with a high level of support and help her with tasks she may find difficult. From things like demonstrating how to do up her coat buttons, or zip up her jumper without getting frustrated, holding a pencil correctly and mark making, to encouraging desirable behaviour by giving her sticker-chart to maintain and an activity of her choice as a reward. All the credit for her progress so far goes to her teachers, T.As, and all the staff who have supported both her and my family at Chantry School. She was always included in activities, lessons and trips, making me grateful, for all that they have done.
I now feel that Shivangi is at the stage in her education where she needs the specialist support that would be available at a special school as the gap between her and her peers in a mainstream school setting, widens.  I feel that Shivangi would benefit greatly from attending a Specialist Educational Setting such as Richmond Hill School. I, therefore, would request you to consider this the heartfelt application from a parent wth a young child, who is following her instincts, her heart and puts her faith in you. My husband and I, both, await your response.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Ruchita Sarvaiya.

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