By Lily Toengi-Andrews
As parents, we navigate our way through life, taking small and often large, steps as each new challenge arises for our children and ourselves. When one of our children has a hand or limb difference the challenges can seem more intense and confronting as we try and guide them unscathed through life and develop a sense of belonging in society. Sometimes we need to be brave enough to just be there for them when they need us and at other times stand back and watch them blossom.
School is one of these steps.
Aussie Hands twins, Callie and Phoebe, started kindergarten this year. School is already daunting for a five-year-old without the extra attention that a hand difference may bring. Callie has a hand difference and is showing mum and dad, Mandy and Phil, how she can shine at school.
Callie and Phoebe were in the same class in preschool but were in separate classes at kindergarten. Their mother and New South Wales Aussie Hands State Coordinator, Mandy said: “The girls are in different classes to enable each of them to shine bright and to grow in independence and confidence. It has worked really well so far, they have grown closer together at home, but it has also allowed them to create independent friendships at school.”
“Callie struggled in the first couple of weeks to make friends independently, but now she has found her voice,” added Mandy.
When asked what school meant to her, Callie replied: “To learn, to read, to write, to spell,” and about her favourite part of class she said: “To write, spell words and help my friends to cut and glue their work.”
It seems the first couple of weeks are well behind Callie as she explained who her many friends are and what she likes doing at lunch and recess: “My friends are Joy, Anya, Tomiwa, Harmony, Diva, Esther, Kalani, Lily, Gnit, Nitnit and I love to play tag and ibble obble black bubble.”
Starting children with hand and limb differences at school can be worrying for parents when they know that they are not going to be there for the questions and the stares that may occur. On asking Mandy how they helped Callie’s move to school, she said: “We tackled this up front. I sent in stories and resources as well as her Doll Like Me for Callie and her teachers to share with her grade in the first week.
She is known and loved by many in the playground, although I have witnessed a few stares and comments. I am in the middle of addressing this with the school as I noticed that Callie regressed and was sad when this happened.”
“At the time I stepped in and used Nemo (from the Disney film Finding Nemo) as an explanation which was a happy common ground for the kids. The school has been very supportive and mainly assist her in growing in confidence. They will be addressing the other grades shortly to avoid more stares and comments,” added Mandy.
Parents who have kindergarten before them may be anxious, but they should know there is a lot more support for their children now. Mandy advised: “Take time to tour the school, set up meetings to discuss your child’s needs and become part of the school community. It is really important to have confidence in the school that will assist you in moulding your child into the person they become.
Utilise the Aussie Hands pamphlet for teachers and ensure the school is confident in limb difference language and any individual support your child may need including making sure they are confident in helping assist with any prosthetics or aids your child may use. If they are not confident your child will sense it.”
Mandy and Phil expect both girls to reach for the stars. Callie may need a little more time occasionally, but there is nothing that she is not expected to try, just like the rest of the class.
“In fact, Callie is assisting other children with their cutting as apparently, she is a more skilled cutter than some of her classmates,” said Mandy. Callie has recently won her first award for being an independent worker and striving to always do her best. Any parent would be proud of these successes.
As both Callie and Phoebe blossom in their own unique ways, it is reassuring to know that school can be less confronting than expected. Support, awareness and understanding of hand and limb differences is more widely embraced as our children start to take these brave steps through life.
Thanks to Callie, Phoebe, Mandy and Phil for sharing their inspiring Aussie Hands story.
Help Aussie Hands continue to help families like Callie, Phoebe, Mandy and Phil by making a Donation.