Last week at the conference my daughter and husband arrived in time to see the presentation before mine, which was presented by a lovely young lady who uses AAC to communicate. She gave her perspective on what it’s like to be non verbal and it’s challenges.
My daughter sat there with an amazed look on her face. She hit my arm and after she got my attention she pointed at the young lady. It was then it hit me…
My daughter had never experienced being in the presence of someone else that was non verbal and that used a device to communicate like her. All through the presentation she laughed and watched intensely soaking it all in. She listened to her talk, using her device and kept looking at me as if to say “look Mum, she’s just like me”.
It was after this moment I realised that very fact. She hasn’t been around people with complex communication needs. She hasn’t been around people who use AAC (alternative and augmentative communication) methods like iPads or speech output devices. She goes to a mainstream school where there are no other students with communication needs. She played soccer in a mainstream team with friends from school.
By no means am I saying that what we have done is a problem or is wrong but I do now realise that there is a need for her to socialise with people like her to help improve her awareness of her need to use her device to communicate and that she isn’t alone. There are others just like her. I want her to meet them and communicate with them. The young men and women at the conference would be fantastic mentors for younger people like my daughter.
So here’s the irony – by mainstreaming our daughter we have limited her exposure to kids with needs similar to hers. By having her at a mainstream school we have broadened the horizon of other kids in the school but we have limited her experience to some extent.
I still fully believe in mainstreaming my daughter at school but now realise the importance of giving her opportunities to meet other people with complex communication needs which will be a major focus for us over the coming 12 months.