In a school of that size, there are of course other kids who have funding for support. But Aaron is one of the only kids with a visible difference, so meeting the other parents of kids with Educational Assistants is impossible. I mean, you don’t just go up to a parent and say, ‘hey, does your kid have autism or something?’
I believe in the power of peer support. I think there is great benefit to connect families together. We can support each other, share information and teach each other how to be effective advocates. Peer support also has a significant mental health benefit, as we know we aren’t alone. I’ve been successful starting up peer support initiatives in the health and disability worlds, but I struggle with finding my peeps in the school environment.
Last year I was very fortunate when an Assistant Principal started to informally introduce me to other parents in the hall, and supported the creation of an Inclusion Group that meets regularly both formally at the school, and informally for coffee at our recreation centre.
We purposely kept the group open to all families who are interested in creating a culture of acceptance and compassion at our school. We want our Inclusive Group to be inclusive. So this doesn’t just include families with kids with so-called ‘special needs’ but people who have typically developing kids, and who want their kids to be in a school environment that welcomes and embraces all sorts of diversity. I think these parents who show up to our meetings are pretty special.
On Friday when we met for coffee, we talked about how to become more active in the greater school community. The last thing we want is to be a segregated ‘special interest’ group. We want our kids to belong to the greater student community, so we have to step up and be more visible. Being an introvert and mom of much older children, I’ve never felt like I’ve fit into the gaggle of moms at the elementary school. I’m always the awkward, bookish girl, and don’t even have the tools to know where to begin.
Amy, one of the moms, had great wisdom about the steps required for both us adults and our kids to gain acceptance, and have influence in the school. I love the simplicity of this:
People have to:
First see you.
Then get to know you.
Then hopefully they like you.
Then they learn to trust you.
This is so brilliant. Showing up is the first step, and we are committed to showing up at Parent Council and for other volunteer opportunities at the school. Acceptance takes a lot of time, hard work and perseverance. I’m not going to lie – this is not easy stuff. But we are committed to not giving up, even when the going gets hard. Because when you have each other, you’ve got each other to hang onto even when the road is bumpy along the way.