Inclusion for my girl

Today we publish the final of our WDSD 2022 series of blogs written by our members about what inclusion means to them. Hazel Toal writes about her experiences with her daughter, Emily. Thank you so much to everyone who has shared their experiences this month.

I must confess from the outset that my idea of inclusion for my daughter, Emily (now 11) was completely different from what it transpired to be. 

We had a lot of plans for Emily and due having had a pre-natal diagnosis a lot of these were made even before she was born! 

We were absolutely adamant that she would go to mainstream school and that we would, as parents, strive for her to have as ‘normal’ a life as possible and be fully integrated in mainstream life and not be different. 

We decided that she would not use Makaton so that she would not be lazy about her speech and that she would be treated no differently than her two brothers. 

The latter was really the only thing that was upheld, although she is much wilier than they are so we need to be on guard at all times to be a step ahead of her – it’s no mean feat! 

Emily was a very communicative girl from the outset and luckily had very good muscle tone all round and so we felt we were very much on track as she smashed every target that was often depressingly underestimated. 

When we attended speech therapy for the first time when she was around 18 months old the therapist asked for just half an hour of our time to demonstrate what Makaton could do – within ten minutes an entire conversation was in full flow with words and expressions that we just didn’t even realise were within her! 

We had a similar learning curve with her education in that we had expressed a desire for her to go to mainstream school. 

She started a mainstream nursery and whilst there was no doubt she was very much loved, she was underestimated and not stimulated or challenged in a way we knew she could be, and she was already being segregated from the other children because her additional support meant she was separate. 

We were encouraged by our Educational Psychologist to visit the Additional Support needs Nursery as this would be a possible pre-school start for her and we were just blown away by the interaction but also the vision of the Head of centre – it sold us at that moment so our choices for school were so much easier because we knew this was the right environment for her. 

Emily is now a very confident, mischievous, happy and really quite extraordinary girl with an absolute best pal for life and a fantastic social life – she attended mainstream dance classes and passed various exams and is now fully immersed in her Stage school and these ‘mainstream’ areas of life really celebrate her and enable her with wonderful activities where she educates her peers. She is accepted without question but more importantly she is accepted just as she is and just who she is. 

Inclusion for us now is that its ok to be just exactly who you are. No more talk of ‘mainstream’ ‘typical’ ‘different’ and definitely not NORMAL.