What if your child can’t go to a mainstream school?

“Travis will never go to a normal school.”

It hurt, hearing those words coming from our first-born’s paediatric neurologist, but we needed to hear them. Up until that point my husband and I had been clinging to the belief that if we put in the hard work while our son was a toddler – hours of intense sessions occupational, physio and speech therapy – we could ‘fix’ Travis in time for him to go to ‘big school’. We couldn’t be more wrong.

The thing is: educating a child with special needs is a no-man’s land. The Department of Education doesn’t support nor recognise curriculums that have been adapted for students who are intellectually challenged. Don’t get me wrong, there are schools that focus on children with autism, and remedial schools for children with various learning challenges.

But schools for children like Travis, whose disabilities means that he’ll likely never achieve any kind of independence, never mind make any contribution to the economy…

In the year that Travis would begin Grade 1, which is 2014, we’ll have to apply to the Department of Education for exemption for him to attend mainstream schooling as provided by our government. And that’s it – the only, brief and final contact Travis will ever have with South Africa’s education system.

Unlike in developed countries such as the United States, where state authorities go out of their way to accommodate children like Travis, even pairing him with a carer who’d accompany him to school each day and assist him in class, in our country it’s left up to the parents.

So what were we to do? For families like ours, your options are:

  • Keep your disabled child at home, and attempt some form of home-schooling, pitched at his level of understanding.
  • Place your child in a full-time or part-time care facility.
  • Find a school that caters for children with disabilities and special needs.

We went for option three.

mainstream school

You might wonder, why bother educating a mentally disabled boy? At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. When you look back on your school days, do you remember the time you learnt how to do algebra, or do you remember making your first friend and sharing sandwiches on the playground?

We found a school for Travis, the Wiggles and Squiggles Special Needs Academy in Boskruin, where the principal has adapted the Montessorri curriculum for children like Travis. He has an IEP, or an independent education programme, where each term we work towards simple goals. This year one of his goals is to master his pencil-grip. Last year another of his goals was: learn to blow your nose!

Travis gets a report, and we attend regular parent-teacher sessions. We don’t feel like we’re just going through the motions or wasting our money. Instead of being side-lined by the education system, we’ve re-worked the system to suit us. Travis is in the school of life, and his life has value, no matter

P.S. The photos in this article of my family and I were taken by Noleen Foster Photography

Click here to find schools for children with special needs

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Stacey Vee

Stacey Vee

Stacey Vee, parenting journalist and the writer of an award-winning blog about raising what she calls ‘a whole family with special needs’.  Mom to Travis the Lionheart (5 yrs) who has a rare brain malformation called Septo Optic Dysplasia and baby Ryan, affectionately called the Squishy Gorilla (7 mnths).

4 Responses

  1. I so can identify with all of you. Yes, there are not many schools for special needs kids. My son is 10 years old and will never go to a so called “normal” school. He is developmentally delayed and still not potty trained and this was a requirement from most special need schools. I was very fortunate to find a school that is close to our home and will accomodate him. He is going to Bumblebees and just loves his teachers & peers.

  2. Hi Stacey

    I can understand exactly where you are coming from as i have travelled the same road with my little girl. She has been in countless schools who apparently deal with special needs all of whom where so accomodating at first and made empty promises. Large depostits where paid and high monthly school fees and at the end of the day i was told she would not cope.She would either be kept back again and again or else just told she would not cope. I was even told by an occupational therapist i should put her in a home and forget about her. As a parent you know your child is capable all they need is that individual attention love and patience and its amazing what these little blessings are capable of. I finally found a school by the Name of DLN when i walked into the school i immediately new this was the place for her. My daughter has cerebral palsy she looks like any normal little girl but once you get to know her you will pick up how easily she tires, lack of concentration, dragging her leg etc it breaks your heart . She started at DLN in grade 2 she was 8and a half. She is now in grade 4 and is 11years old never been happier and is getting an average of 70% .It can be done and like you , you eventually will find the right place for your child and when you do you will know it. These children with special needs are amazing and will teach us all alot they are the little blessings in life that make it worth living. There is always hope for these little things you just have to find the right school with the right people and DLN was the right place for my little angel. It has been nothing but a blessing in her life and mine.

  3. Thanks for your article.I wish to highlight a few inaccuracies.There are very limited resources for autistic kids in SA.Autism affects one in 54 boys and one in 88 girls.Looking at the stats it is very common and prevalence is increasing yearly.There very few autism specific schools in SA are EXTREMELY expensive.Medical funders do not cover a fraction of the OT,SIOT, and Speech therapy that autistic kids require daily.We are faced with the same three options detailed in your article.The education system:primary,high school,tertairy education simply does not accomodate autism.Employment opportunities are dismal.An autistic child will most likely be dependant on the parent lifelong. Thus the journey is indeed very similar to yours.

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