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It is easier to assimilate special needs children with neurotypical children in the pre-school age, so Giggle Garden, my pre-school, aims at beginning inclusive education early.
There was a time when I dreamed of becoming an astrophysicist. The inspiration was Carl Sagan and his television series ‘Cosmos: A Personal Voyage’. That dream was lost in space and gone forever when I dropped out of PUC and got married.
My dream of being an independent career woman was forgotten as I got busy trying to please people, win their appreciation and take care of my children and family. I couldn’t connect or recognize myself, as days went by.
This is when the wake-up call came in the form of Breast Cancer when I was 29. Relationships that demanded sacrifices crumbled like a house of cards when I endured the harsh treatment. I can say that I had no other option but to start a career and take care of myself financially. It was not easy but not impossible either. I had to start very small.
Throughout my life, I had enjoyed teaching. Giving tuition was a hobby, but now it became a part of my income along with making and selling soft toys, stitching clothes, and many odd jobs. I was surprised that even when going through chemo, I could pick myself up and start earning. It gave a big boost to my confidence which has never wavered since then.
As years went by, with encouragement from my son, I studied again. I completed my graduation and post-graduation and started my career seriously with all new fervour. I loved the lost and found again financial freedom.
It was at this stage that a dream was born out of the pain which can only be experienced by a mom of a special needs child. My teenage daughter with special needs was referring to the regular people, including me, as ‘YOU’ people and those with special needs as ‘WE’ people. It was very painful for me to see that my daughter was feeling that she was different from me. Her feelings were based on how we treated her.
I could blame society, our fate, or injustice and take some comfort in playing the blame game, or I could think of doing something about it. Thus was born the idea of creating a preschool where inclusivity would be a norm. I
know that it is not possible to include every child in a regular school due to the different challenges they have. For example, a child with severe ADHD in a regular environment may harm other children in the school. Autism is not well understood even by special educators, hence, it would be a challenge for regular teachers to handle a child with autism. Intellectual challenges, cerebral palsy, Downs syndrome, learning disabilities were easier for inclusivity.
Having done my M.S. in Counseling and Psychotherapy I understand both the physical and emotional challenges everyone would face in an inclusive environment. I was not going to jump blindly into the project without doing my homework. But I knew, there was no testing this water without getting into it. I gave up my job and started an inclusive preschool. It was a huge risk for someone who started a career very late in life, but a dream was born and I couldn’t stop myself.
In the initial year, there was a rejection of the idea from parents of regular school-going preschoolers and the parents of children with special needs. One set of parents was afraid that the special children could be dangerous and that their children would pick up their behaviors. The other set of parents was worried their special child would be discriminated against, ignored, and hurt in a regular school environment. Admissions were rare, but they did happen. That was encouraging enough for me. Slowly people around me developed trust in my ability to run the school and admissions started picking up.
In 2020 when I was stepping into the profit zone, Covid19 forced me to close down the school. It was a big shock and setback for me. Being in the rental premises hurt my business more. There were people who took advantage of the situation and caused losses to me, but there were also people who stepped in to support me. I had to close down the school and sell most of my materials. It was tougher than giving up my breast when I had to fight cancer.
In 2022, when I came across an old building and the dream was born again. I had found a good job during the lockdown and was in a comfortable place once again, but Giggle Garden had the magic of pulling me into it once again. With encouragement from a few parents, I restarted my school.
Fortunately, my struggling days were over. Admissions were not as difficult as it was in 2017 when I had opened the school for the first time. Though I was late in getting the premises ready and starting the school, there were enough admissions to almost cover the running cost every month. I am steadily moving forward with my school and daycare.
We have children with challenges and parents have learned to respect my idea of running an inclusive preschool. Many ask me why not follow the normal way of inclusive education which starts at the age of 6 years and above for children, why preschool?
As we can observe and understand, in the initial years of schooling, the needs of the special children and regular children are almost the same in school, though some extra help may be required based on their diagnosis. Inclusivity in the early years is easy compared to the years when academics take importance and special children will have different needs.
In the picture above, we can see that regular and special needs children can work side by side without any special effort from monitoring adults. Parents are being more supportive of the cause as we are growing in experience.
I may not be able to make a huge difference to many people, but I am sure I have already made a difference to a few children and parents. For me that little achievement is a dream I would die for.
I wish to own a place that I make physically accessible to all people and create an environment where every child can smile and grow. I wish to be the ‘smile farmer’ in ‘Giggle Garden’ where I could grow smiles of all children.
I am Farida Rizwan, 55, Counselor and Psychotherapist working as Senior Curriculum Developer with Chimple Learning. I am ardent blogger @www.chaptersfrommylife.com and share my life experiences of surviving breast cancer 3rd stage for read more...
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