A perspective on the world of disability from a mother and an educator. Follow my blog!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The earlier you start....

I'm writing this on a complete high at the moment. It was my birthday this week and my family and friends have spoilt me no end. Time spent in good company is medicine for the soul. I can't express the joy I felt at having a yard full of friends and their children and watching the kids create little performances on our home made stage.

I'm also on a high because our garden has been transformed even further in the last 24 hours. After a week or so of preparations we have worked like Trojans to put in a retaining wall to terrace our lawn and install a floating wooden bridge from our driveway to our back entertaining area. Not to mention my Bear built me a gazebo (with curtains!) for my birthday. Visiting The Laurels (a formal garden in our town) and speaking to the amazing landscape architect there gave us so many ideas about how to improve our time outdoors (I'm also having him do our garden at the Kindergarten!). I'm truly feeling overwhelmed with blessings right now.

Working in our garden, earning myself some pretty nice blisters using ever garden tool imaginable, I was reflecting on how much has changed in our yard. We started with a bare block - not a single tree in sight. In the beginning we had no plan drawn up for us, little knowledge of gardening at all really. Very much like how our life with our big girl started. A completely blank slate.

When we first moved into our home we knew straight away we knew we wanted shade in our yard, so we planted shade trees. Today we are able to enjoy time outside with our girls because of the 'early intervention' we made with our back yard.

The early intervention we gave our big girl has many parallels. We wanted somewhere for our big girl to explore her own imagination, so we built her a tree house. She needed to do her physiotherapy at home, so we filled our yard with equipment. Our big girl needed to work on her core strength so we built her a driveway so she could use her scooter, bike and skateboard at home. She has had surgeries and therapies galore to improve the outcomes in her life. The sooner these we done/implemented, the sooner she could reap the benefits.

In those early days of researching what Down syndrome actually meant I found out: that life expectancies had risen sharply in the last few decades, that health risks were on the decline thanks to modern medicine, that independent living was an expectation now where it hadn't been as recently as the '70s and '80s. We no longer place children with DS in institutions. We provide them with as much therapy and support as we can, as soon as we can, and the end result is a much better opportunity of outcome. I can not overstate how blessed we were to start early intervention with our big girl at the age of two weeks, daunting though it was. Without it, we wouldn't be where we are today.

Through my Masters I learnt the fiscal benefits that $1 spent in the first 5 years can save $6 in adulthood. I also learnt about all the 'at risk' categories, and now I am seeing them in the flesh rather than a text book. Low socio-economic backgrounds, premature births, emotionally dysfunctional homes, diagnosed disabilities, the list goes on. The thing they all have in common though, is that you can never start soon enough.

Through my personal experience and that of many close friends I have learnt that early childhood is such a critical learning period, it simply can not be underestimated. The lovely teachers who helped my then baby girl become the confident, literate young lady that she is today are the same teachers who in part inspired me to specialise in Special Education (the other part of inspiration came from my big girl!).

To have plans drawn up of what we would like our garden to look like but never do anything about it, to never do the hard work, would result in nothing. The same can be said for special education in general. We know where we would like our kids to be, but if we don't do something the moment our intuition tells us something is up, then we risk losing our best window of opportunity. The starting point can be an official diagnosis like ours was, or
  • it could be knowing your bub was born premature, 
  • it could be seeing your boy doesn't fit in at playgroup, 
  • it could be hearing the kindy teacher say they're awfully quiet at kindy,
  • it could be your girl is late to hit all the milestones
  • it could just be your parental intuition,
the point is it doesn't matter what, but the when really does matter. 

As our needs have grown and changed, so has our garden, but if we hadn't planted a single tree, we'd still have nothing. If I want my garden to look like the Laurels in a few years, I need to be out there now, rotating my veggie patch and trimming the hedge.

March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day. The sooner we start to educate and eradicate the ignorance, the sooner we will live in a world where others can understand what it's like.

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