Save the Early Childhood Development Program
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Bella was diagnosed as autistic when she was 4 years old. She suffered with extreme anxiety and had a severe speech delay. She had been attending our local daycare for the past 2 years, and once we had started process of getting her diagnosed she was able to attend our local ECDP (Early Childhood Development Program). The difference was immense - but the program now faces closure.
There were some educators at Bella's daycare centre who were amazing. But they didn't have the resources, equipment, or specialist training to be able to help her fulfil her potential. They were given funding to hire an inclusion support person, but again they didn't have the skills or knowledge to help her, and were only there for her one on one for about an hour a day.
More often than not I would arrive at pickup time to find my sensory seeking child sitting alone outside eating mud. She even got lost one day - no one realising until we arrived to collect her. She was picked on by the other kids, and none of the parents seemed interested in befriending me - I was the parent of the ‘naughty, weird kid’ after all.
The ECDP could not have been more different. Attached to the local special school, It was a free service and she was to attend for 2 mornings a week. There was a clear focus on preparation for school, as well as lots of practical support with her speech delay and high sensory needs.
We had just one year left before she started school, and she needed to be able to do basic, obvious things like keep her shoes on in the classroom, not hold her comfort toys in her hands every minute, not eat all the non-food items she could get her hands on (sand, mud, paper, glue, paint, crayons and anything metal), and actually be able to sit still on a chair for more than 10 seconds.
She needed to know how to communicate and interact with other children, that her name was Bella, be able to actually write her name – all things that most children take for granted by the time they reach school age.
Bella also attended speech and occupational therapy, but this was in a one on one setting with her therapist. At ECDP she was in a classroom with other children, and a teacher and aide who gave her the direction she needed. She had to put her bag and lunchbox away when she arrived, and pack them up again at the end of the day.
She had work time, playtime and food time – she learned to go by their schedule and rules and not her own. This was an eye opener for us. Having spent the first 4 years of her life doing pretty much everything for her, we started to see that she could be independent. She could pack and carry her own bag, she could put her own shoes on. She could follow instructions and compete tasks (even if it was really hard to start off with).
When she was very small we just thought she was a very difficult child. Then when she was diagnosed we thought she simply couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to do any of these things, because she was autistic.
The ECDP taught us that there was so much more to her than the autism. That the diagnosis did not mean that she couldn’t learn and grow just like any other child. We increased our expectations of her and boy did she deliver.
We have our ups and downs, and her progress can be slow (at times seemingly non existent) – but if it wasn’t for her amazing teacher and all the aides that were determined not to give up on her when she was just 4, I doubt she would be in the place she is now.
We were very lucky – her beautiful teacher saw something in Bella that only a few people see. It can be very easy to write her off on a bad day, to put her in the ‘too hard’ basket. But underneath it all she is an intelligent, smart girl with so much potential, something that I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t see until her ECDP teacher showed me.
Now let’s consider what her transition to school would have been like without that foundation year at the ECDP. Without all the support and knowledge that her teacher was able to share with her new school. It hasn’t always been an easy transition, but she has come a very long way from the little girl who couldn’t talk, who would sit in the corner of the playground eating sand, who couldn’t sit at a desk or hold a pen. And we owe all of that to the time she spent at the ECDP.
If they get closed down, the Department of Education is failing all those children like Bella who deserve a fair start to their education.
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