Staff from Goodstart Early Learning share a story of early childhood inclusion.
In August last year Jabed’s mother enquired about full time care for her son who had been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and potential autism spectrum disorder.
Centre Director, Marie Antuoni, said that she remembers how much this family wanted to be included in mainstream early childhood education and that they desperately needed support.
“When she attended the centre tour, Jabed’s mother, Aisha, who was single and working full time, was armed with a thick folder of doctor’s reports and came across as quite frustrated about her previous experiences in trying to get her child to attend a mainstream centre.” said Marie.
For Marie it was really important to support this family and do everything she could to include Jabed in the centre so he could have access to education and support. Unfortunately only three days were initially available for him to attend and that proved to be a challenge in building a strong connection with the family, as the mum initially saw this as another rejection.
Marie tapped into the learning from the focussed training through Family Connections program, which is a year long training and mentoring program run by Goodstart’s Social Inclusion unit for centre directors and educators to enhance their ability to support children and families. She reflected on the situation and consulted the team of educators and together they have identified that before anything else, there was an acute need to place the emphasis on building the relationship with this family.
“We focussed on working closely with this mother, Jabed’s newly appointed key educator and all other educators to support and facilitate the child’s need for inclusion. We made time to meet and talk with Aisha. I think one thing that made a big difference was that we really listened to her and tried to understand where she was coming from.”
Aisha had very negative experiences of early childhood education and care for her son in the past which shaped her current expectations and fears. When the educators at the centre made it a priority to sit down together and talk, it became apparent that Aisha had done lots of research around her son’s difficulties and held a great deal of knowledge about her child, his behaviour and their goals as a family. She was already using strategies which worked, and previously it seemed that no one had ever taken the time to find out what was working at home and to try to utilise this information in the early childhood context.
“I feel that listening and learning from his mother was one of the main keys to Jabed’s inclusion” said Marie.
The centre invested in lots of preparation before Jabed even started. Jabed spent time individually with the staff member whom he build a strong attachment with to help him feel comfortable when he first separated from his mother.
Jabed quickly developed a bond with one of the educators when his needs were responded to in a nurturing and respectful way. Initially Marie would call the mother up to a couple of times each day to provide updates on Jabed’s day, and gradually his mother began to trust the service and see that her child was settling in and participating more with other children in the service. Even though this did involve a significant time commitment initially, it was crucial at the beginning. They managed the time around making sure we could continue to have conversations about how things were at home.
The team at the centre also sought advice from the Social Inclusion Coordinator from Goodstart, Luba Torban, to begin working with the family towards achieving their goals. The centre and Social inclusion coordinator worked closely to support the centre’s goals. We discussed the need for consistency and safety and worked on strategies that really made a difference to his behaviour. One of these was giving him ample verbal warning before transitions e.g. telling him when it was 10 minutes until morning tea.
Another important strategy was learning about and focussing on Jabed’s interests. He had a fascination with robots and how they worked mechanically. His key worker sought out his knowledge around this topic and he got to be a leader in this area and led an investigation around robots. This was a powerful strength for him to be the holder of this knowledge. When an additional two days became available, the position was offered to the family and Jabed’s mother accepted, having seen how the consistency, stability and inclusive environment was benefitting Jabed.
“The child’s challenges were not the primary focus – the focus was on relationships and inclusion. The culmination of this work came at the centre’s end of year event, when Jabed and his mother attended together.
Ordinarily, Aisha told us that she avoids social outings at all costs because she feels a great sense of anxiety about Jabed’s unpredictable behaviour. They both participated in the end of year party where Jabed seemed to feel safe, secure and that he entirely belongs with his peers and educators; he was able to enjoy himself immensely. Aisha said that it was the first time in a long time that she was able to relax and be in the moment with her child.”