Last year, Melissa Slater graduated year 12 at Coburg Special Development School. We spoke to her mother, Sharon Slater, about Melissa’s journey so far as a student with special needs.
What year did Melissa start her schooling journey?
Melissa’s journey started at Coburg Special Developmental School (SDS) on the 31/1/2007 she was happy and excited I remember, all smiles and cheeky, but for me I was so scared and nervous about her being in an special development school. Knowing that my girl could not attend mainstream like her twin sisters hurt, but my journey began with my special girl through her schooling years.
What school has Melissa attended for her schooling and has this school been supportive?
Melissa has attended 13 years at the Coburg Special Developmental School and we have been supported by Principals and staff from day 1. The SDS school has their own speech pathologists and occupational therapists that worked with her and teachers over the years to engage in learning communication skills that allow Melissa to communicate with others and achieve her goals as she is non-verbal.
I have never had any major problems because I’m a parent with a voice and makes sure that she is happy and safe at school. The school also supported me because of my own stress as a single parent and making sure I’m ok because the stress of raising Melissa with disabilities is a hard path to be on. It’s like our own little school community behind that locked gate for all families, we have each other to talk too because were all on the same special journey. I don’t think I could have made it this far without the principals, teachers and parents support within this school that been part of our lives for 13 years of my daughters schooling.
What have been some of your proudest moments during her schooling?
I have so many proud moments of her at school just seeing her photo or our photo smiling up in the school newsletter over the year brings a smile to my face. Turning up on sport excursion days seeing her have a go. Her learning more basic sign, her PODD book and LAMP PODD book on technology so she can communicate others, and others can understand her she is non-verbal. But the proudest moment of all is last year, in 2019, letting her be filmed doing the Acknowledgement of Country by flashcards for the Victorian Principals Conference 2019 in Melbourne which I also helped with. I watch it all the time and I’m one proud mum. To me it shows how far she has come and letting people hear her voice, her way and in her world and my girl as a young Aboriginal person with special needs just makes me prouder.
What have been some of her favourite activities at school?
She loved gardening, cooking, art, attending camps over the years and she was okay at sport. She loved also playing outside in the yard with her friends and dressing up for fancy dress for something. She sometimes was the only one dressed up but I was also beside her dressed up too.
Please tell us a little about Melissa and what else you would like to share
From about 7 months old Melissa went into her quiet world and she was not the happy-go-lucky baby I brought home from hospital anymore. I knew something was not right. At 11 months old is when she had mal seizures due to epilepsy disorder. This began my journey raising a child with disability.
Melissa was very slow at learning to rolling over, walking and sounds. I always had someone visiting our house like Speech Pathologists, Occupational Therapists and this went on throughout preschool with Early Intervention all the while me keeping her pediatrician at VAHS up to date on her journey.
At 6 or 7 years old I was told she is autistic and is highly Intellectual and needs support throughout her life and day to day support. Her learning disability also affects how she relates to her environment around her, and her interaction with people in the community and also her behavior. Melissa does not like change we are in routine every day. Home is her safe place, her world our world.
All I can say to new parents from my point of view is when your child is diagnosed by a pediatrician with autism or Special Needs, listen and learn from them and they will refer you to the right Departments for your child’s needs. Then everything should just fall into place for that new journey, the same journey Melissa and I are on.
Her Coburg Special Developmental School years behind those locked gates was a safe place to be and she always walked out with a smile to me. I wanted Melissa to graduate and be equal as her twin sisters and cousins who graduated from school. As a parent of someone with special needs we have no choice but to keep them in that safe place and let her finish 13 years of schooling. Because the next journey and pathway is out in the adult world and that scares me like hell but it’s our next journey, I’m on this with her till my last breath I take because I’m her voice.
I’m the proudest mum who will stand next to her at her Coburg Special Developmental School’s Graduation 2020 because as her mum I have finished this journey with her and we are ready for the next big journey in the adult world and there’s more for us to learn about her special world.