Ten-year-old Nikolai is a kid of many talents. He’s a capable swimmer, biker and runner (hence his numerous Weetbix triathlon medals), a great badminton player, and a valued member of a local soccer team. He’s also just moved to a new school, in a new town – a tough transition for anyone. Oh, and Nikolai’s got Down syndrome.
He's one of the kids supported to get speech-language therapy through our partner charity UpsideDowns, so he's really family here. His mum, Jacqui, fills us in on how much it's meant for him to have that communication training during the move, and all the little things the community have done to make it easier.
When we decided we were moving from Auckland to Whangarei, we called the new school we were zoned for and explained our situation. The Principal said all the right things, but it’s really hard to gauge someone from a phone call. I felt nervous, because Nikolai needs so much support.
I went into our old school in Auckland and talked to the Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO) and junior DP, and told her I was worrying, even though they had said all the right things. She said, ‘I feel like a road trip. I think we should come up and meet your new school and hand Nikolai over.’
So me, Brett (my husband) and the kids did a day trip up, with the team from our old school. We met with the new school, their SENCO, the teacher and the teacher aide he was going to have. It was great for his old school to hand over the baton, saying ‘We treasure this child, we encourage inclusion, and we’d like you to follow on.’ And our new school just picked it up and ran with it. Having the old team come up made a huge difference to us. This school would’ve been great regardless, but as a family it was awesome to have that support, to sit in a meeting and know your child is valued. That made me feel quite humbled, and also sad because you’re leaving that support you’ve created to start anew.
It’s quite amazing, when I think about it, how well Nikolai’s transitioned. It’s been seamless. That’s purely because people are putting the effort in to making it work. I walk into school and the amount of children that say hello to him is really cool. I don’t go home and worry about how he’s managing at school and what’s happening with him. They are working really hard at making Nikolai’s education journey work really well, and he is flourishing.
We still have Sarah, our speech language therapist, Skyping in to deliver his programme, and she’s also visited the school once. We’re very lucky to belong to the UpsideDowns Education Trust. They are helping to fund Nikolai’s speech language therapy. Having Sarah’s expertise is really massive, and having UpsideDowns helping fund that – it just wouldn’t be achievable otherwise. It’s like a friendly helping hand on our back helping us with our journey.
Nikolai’s playing soccer again up here, in the same grade as his brother. The football club were so welcoming. I rang and said, ‘I’ve got two boys, they played in Auckland, the oldest boy who’s ten has Down syndrome and I’d like him to be fully included.’ And they said, ‘We’re always looking for new members, and we’d love to have you.’
When we turned up to soccer, I said to Dario, his younger brother, ‘It’s harder for Nikolai to fit in so please be aware of how you are around your brother, because the way that you behave, the children will reflect on that and will follow suit.’
I went to the soccer pitch, and my heart was going, ‘Ok, he will stand out and be different here.’ But he just got on with it, and no one cared that it took him a bit longer. The boys in his team were great. Nikolai called to have the ball passed to him, and they passed it. And I thought, ‘That’s me as a parent fussing.’ I didn’t need to fuss. It was fine. That was a good lesson as a parent – don’t underestimate your child’s ability to be with their peers.
Nikolai does badminton on a Friday night. He’s got pretty good hand-eye coordination now. He’s doing swimming too. It’s hard to get the breathing, arm stroke and kicking going at the same time, so he’s doing one-to-one sessions. He’s just gone from strength to strength. It’s really good to see.
That says something pretty cool about Nikolai in regards to the fact that he himself transitioned really well. He’s got to take some credit there too for his strength and resilience. I’m proud of him.
Nikolai has shown us he’s adaptable. He has the ability to socialise with new people, regardless of his communication skills. He has a lot of strengths and deserves a lot of the credit for the move. Absolutely. Mind you, I’ll probably forget that when he comes home in the evening. Nikolai and Dario catch the country bus home at the end of the day. They’re so cute. You can hear the bus chugging down the road, and you can hear the kids yelling. As it leaves, Nikolai often stands there waving or poking out his tongue or doing a funny dance, and you hear him and Dario fighting over the mail. They trudge up the path, and he’s happy. He comes up to me and says, ‘Hello, Mummy!’
Any child, you want to empower them so they feel confident to do things. Seeing Nikolai take on new things positively tells me that all of us – me and Brett as parents, his siblings, and the whole community that is helping him – we’re all doing something right because Nikolai feels confident to do things. That’s success.
~ Jacqui, Nikolai's Mum.
The UpsideDowns Education Trust help heaps of kids like Nikolai learn to talk, read and write by funding speech language therapy. We'd love you to go find out more and support them with your 1%!