When my daughter went to secondary school, it just didn’t fit. To be fair, it was not just the schools fault. You see, she suffered Meningitis when she was seven and she was left with brain damage. When she came around from three weeks on a ventilator in a medically-induced coma she was lucky to be alive. She’d lost her speech, her movement on her right side and her ability to walk.
What followed was little short of a miracle. With minimal help from the medical community, she started the slow process of learning to walk and talk again. She went back to school and there began the struggle with the system which eventually led to the decision that the system could not provide for her very individual needs. Primary school was okay. It was certainly not perfect, but she managed. Secondary school, on the other hand, was much more of a challenge. She managed one year at secondary school until eventually, with much negativity from the school and Local Authority, we sent our de-registration letter.
What followed was similar to many EHE familes. A period of de-schooling led to that all too familiar “what next” feeling. She did some on-line courses. She saw a private tutor, primarily focusing on English and Maths. During this period, she also sustained a serious injury to her ankle, which, over the course of the next year, put her in a wheelchair when outdoors and on crutches indoors. She now had coming to terms with a new disability and all of the associated pain and upset this brings.
Our EHE provision adapted. We focused on independence, resilience and coping strategies for a disabled teenager to be independent in life. Whilst she continued some academic work, of primary importance was her ability to interact with the world and to cope with her disability. We felt, and still do feel, that this is the biggest enabler for a young person coping with disability. Academic study can come at any time in life, but coping strategies can last a lifetime.
This year, in what would have been her year-11 year if she was in mainstream school, she has gone to college, on a pre-vocational course. It’s been a struggle at times but she’s done really well and we’re proud of her. Next year, she hopes to study Media. She’s come full-circle, from mainstream schooling, following a parabola through EHE and back to main-stream again next year. Her time as EHE has allowed her to step back and re-assess what she wants to achieve from education. It has allowed her to see education as a very personal, positive experience which she can be excited about. She is motivated and engaged. (most of the time, she is a teenager!)
Last week, it felt like all of our hard work had been justified, when the local authority EHE advisory teacher, who has always been very supportive, praised our daughters achievement and said her story was a “model” for other EHE parents in similar situations.
I would imagine many EHE parents and young people, particularly those with some element of special needs, will identify with this path. EHE is a great enabler, but many still want to be able to engage with mainstream higher and further education as a conclusion to their EHE journey. It’s great to be able to look forward to a life where a young person can fully integrate into society, taking their new-found confidence and skills that have been fostered by EHE. The next couple of years for our daughter could see a complete transformation. From young person to adult and due to some hopefully life-changing surgery, from wheelchair user to able-bodied young woman. We’re excited to see what the future holds.