“We need more than integration, we need real inclusion.”
Max started his educational career at a special school, but wanted to go to mainstream. The family found a non-zoned primary near their Auckland home that offered them the belonging Max craved, says his mum, Antonia.
“Max requires some understanding about how he interacts with the world. He’s a great example of someone with reasonably complex needs in the system. We needed a school that would support Max to achieve his own version of success rather than forcing him to conform, a school that would support his right to be there, and appreciation that poor behaviour can be the result of feeling like you don’t belong. We needed a school prepared to include Max with a ‘whole school’ approach to learning support.
When Max started at mainstream I was invited into class to talk to the children. It laid the groundwork by helping them put themselves in Max’s shoes. I also spent time working with the teacher – at their request – educating them about Max’s disability. The teacher used that information to develop a good relationship with Max.
The school quickly realised that if Max didn’t follow the rules it wasn’t necessarily ‘naughty’ behaviour but a need not being met. The school was careful to keep rules simple and when rules were broken to ask ‘why’? He kept using the junior playground instead of the senior one, and instead of telling him off the school asked ‘why’? It turned out the equipment in the senior play area was too complicated for Max, so they addressed it, facilitating him to join in with his peers.
Teachers accepted some of Max’s more out-of-the-box behaviour, and warded off concerns from other parents with positivity and enthusiasm for Max’s role in the school. With support from staff we created an inclusion network to better meet the needs of pupils with disabilities and learning differences. They also secured extra funding for programmes like music therapy, and created a new format for school reports to celebrate the successes of children like Max.
Max has been advocated for by his school from the start and included in every activity from camp to performances. He’s valued by friends and teachers, has learned well at his own level, and become a happier person. I’d love to see all schools including their children who need learning support in this way.”