At the end of 2016, we spoke to Kahli Oliveira (“Mrs O”) about the year she’d had with Kieran, one of her Year 1 students who has Down syndrome and has been receiving speech language therapy with the help of UpsideDowns since he was 2 years old.
Kieran is now in Year 3, about to turn 8, and is absolutely loving school, so we caught up with Barbara McPherson, the Director of Guidance and Support at Gladstone Primary School, to check in with how Kieran is continuing to grow and thrive.
Barbara has been a part of Kieran’s life ever since he was 2 years old and his big sister started at Gladstone. When he was 4, Barbara’s daughter became Kieran’s nanny, bringing her into even closer contact with the family.
“Of course, once he started school I’ve had lots and lots to do with him. I see him every day and sometimes, see him quite a few times a day! That’s not because there’s a problem, more so because he’s passing by or pops his little head in to say hi. At the beginning, I saw quite a lot of him because there were a few more challenges and we were supporting him all the time, but honestly, he’s doing so well now.”
Barbara works alongside Kieran’s family, his teacher, his teacher aide and his speech language therapist to make sure that he is getting the best possible start in life.
“The Ministry of Education now work more on a consultation basis. As they no longer provide one on one [speech language therapy], they assess the student and provide programmes for the teacher and teacher aide to use and work on to support Kieran. That’s why private speech language therapy is so important for these children.”
Having Kieran at Gladstone isn’t just great for him, it’s beneficial for all of his classmates and all the staff and students. Barbara, like Mrs O, believes that inclusive practises are important for all kids. Kieran spends most of his day learning, playing, and eating alongside his peers, and Barbara witnesses the benefits every day.
“Having Kieran in the class brings a real sense of family. They all feel they want to look after him. I don’t mean baby him, because we definitely do not encourage that at all, but they feel a real responsibility to him. It just brings out such empathy. They’re so caring and supportive, they want him to be safe and they want him to be included in everything they do.”
“I don’t think they really think of him as Kieran with Down syndrome, he’s just Kieran!”
Since Mrs O wrote her article, Kieran has come a long way, and is now much more integrated into school life.
“I’m not saying the needs have gone away, but the needs are different. A lot of our emphasis at the beginning was around his transition in to school, staying in the classroom, compliance and safety, so the need for me to be involved was greater.
When he first came to school you had to hold his hand as we feared him being knocked over in the playground, and falling going up and down stairs. But now, he is climbing on the playground, he is running around and he is so happy and confident.”
Kieran’s speech has developed significantly. Not only has his intelligibility and vocabulary improved, but Barbara describes how she can now have more sophisticated conversations with him.
“His speech has developed significantly. I understand him most of the time, and people who know him do too, but there are still times that I don't always understand him. Probably, if you didn’t know Kieran, it would be harder to understand what he’s trying to say, but he’s come so far. [In Year One] if you’d say to him ‘would you like to do this or that’, we would find he’d repeat the last thing you said. But now I can hold a simple two-way conversation with him. He’ll actually come to me and he’ll say ‘Pherson!’ and he’ll tell me things without me asking him a question, so it’s more voluntary.”
Barbara credits Kieran’s speech language therapy and the support he receives from UpsideDowns for his progress, but emphasises that this is part of a wider picture.
“I wouldn’t say it is speech language therapy alone… he’s got such an amazing family who are so supportive of him. He’s got amazing, supportive sisters and parents and everyone around him and he is exposed to so many amazing experiences.”
Our chat was conducted in a room that had a huge canvas print of some of his friends, who attend ‘The Cottage’ – a play-based learning environment for students with special needs, which Kieran attends after lunch 4 days a week.
“He loves ‘The Cottage’ and knows all the students’ names, he knows every one, he is such an amazing boy,” Barbara tells me. “Every time he sees you he says hello with such a beautiful smile on his face.”
“He brings so much to our school. He is so loved!”
If you’re inspired by Kieran’s journey and you’re not already a fabulous 1% donor, we’d love you to consider supporting UpsideDowns with 1% of your income to make this training possible for more and more kids in New Zealand!