My education journey is a bit different from most other students; I have attended public school, private school (both religious and independent), alternative education (such as Montessori and informal homeschool) and - of course, due to the pandemic - online schooling.
I have multiple disabilities, one of which is dyslexia. I have always had my learning disability; it's how my brain is wired however I wasn’t diagnosed until year six as I was in a learning environment which was made for me and my brain to thrive. As a young child I struggled with spelling, reading, writing, speech and hearing sounds and words which is quite common with dyslexia. I was first diagnosed with auditory processing disorder and started speech therapy when I was 7-8. My parents were told by specialists and therapists that I was going to struggle a lot with school and end up dropping out. That there wasn’t much hope for my future education wise. Looking back now, it’s ironic as, due to being told this and my stubborn self, I am even more determined to finish my schooling!
In my early education years I went to a form of alternative education called Montessori. For those who are unfamiliar with Montessori, it's a different approach to learning focusing on inspiring children to a lifelong love of learning through following their natural developmental trajectory. In Montessori classrooms the children have autonomy and choice in what they learn. It may look more chaotic than a typical classroom but if you look closely you’ll see all the children learning their own things in a way that works for them and at their own pace. Because of this environment it can be perfect for children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities as the learning is individualised, flexible and hands on. It is important to note that while Montessori can be great for some disabled children, it isn’t always accessible or appropriate for all kids with disabilities and is not without its flaws.
There were a lot of other neurodivergent students in my classes due to it being known to better support some kids with disabilities. It's something I forget is not a typical thing for most kids in mainstream schools.
Looking back, I am really grateful that I was able to be in a classroom filled with kids who were different, like me. It allowed me to understand that the way I learn and think aren’t less than or bad but simply different. We are all learning and growing in our own time and way!
This is something that has stuck with me ever since. I know there is often a fear of what will happen when non-disabled and disabled kids are put together in a classroom and to be honest there were some issues, however, this was often due to the fact that students weren’t getting the supports they needed. For example there was a student who needed 1 on 1 support in the classroom but didn’t receive that, which meant that a lot of the time the teacher was helping that student instead of the rest of the class.
That said, it is possible to have all the kids learning and playing together, we just have to make sure that everyone is receiving the supports and accommodations they need to thrive in school. It often just takes a bit more time and effort but is so rewarding for everyone involved.
We often talk about accessible and inclusive education as an abstract concept, but there are places that are currently making great progress on access and inclusion for all students. This makes me hopeful for the future and what the next generation of disabled students will experience during their schooling and education.
Advocating for an accessible and inclusive education for all students is a tiring task, but the impact it has on those kids’ lives stays with them forever.
My education journey took a 180 when I went into mainstream high school. I struggled so much as I was now in an education setting that was not designed for me to excel in. While my school did their best to accommodate me, it wasn’t easy. However, I was lucky to have received supports when I was younger such as therapy, diagnoses, and supportive and understanding parents and teachers. These allowed me to foster a love of learning and a crucial understanding that my brain wasn’t less and that I wasn’t stupid. I was able to keep on going and by the end of this year I can say I graduated and successfully completed VCE and high school!
At the end of the day, all disabled children are deserving of the opportunity to learn and thrive.