Watching Kieran Grow

Kahli Oliveira (“Mrs O”) teaches in room 3 at Gladstone Primary in Mt Albert, Auckland, and one of her students, Kieran, age 6, has an extra chromosome.

Kieran is in a mainstream classroom, where he is assisted daily by his teacher aide, Rachael, and sees his private speech language therapist, Kendall, fortnightly. Our partner charity The UpsideDowns Education Trust helps Kieran to receive Kendall’s services, and Mrs O reckons the results are pretty darn clear to her. She generously took the time to share a little with us on her time together with Kieran below.


This is the first time I’ve had a child with Down syndrome in my class, and it’s been a really unique experience. It’s exciting to have him and be part of his journey, and see how far he’s come academically, knowing that he can make that progress, even though those steps are just that little bit slower.

Inclusive practices are so important. Kieran’s in the class for our reading and writing programme, and he’s part of a group. As part of finishing a Bachelor of Education, I picked up five special needs papers about inclusive practices, which opened my eyes to the research behind that, so it really added to my personal philosophy.

It’s so interesting, learning more, and being able to give more to your job. It’s really important to work on that class culture of being accepting and being kind and using our manners and all of those inclusive practices that we expect of all children, no matter what, no matter who.

Kieran has great days, and then some days, you hit a brick wall every step of the way. But in a heartbeat, you can redirect that, and he becomes smiling, giggling Kieran. Today we had superhero Kieran who was charging around the room. He made a cape out of a piece of tiger cloth.

I think the coolest thing about him is he has no awareness that he’s any different to anybody else, and I think that’s a real attribute to hopefully hold dear, going forward, for me as a teacher too. I’ve picked up his attitude. From my perspective, it’s important to have really high expectations for all our children. When they walk in that door, they’re a 5-year-old, and my job is to do the best that I can with what I’ve got.

The support that Kieran has around him is just crucial to his success. He’s come so far because of all these interventions and the access to the things he’s got. The partnership between teacher and teacher aide and student is really important, and also the relationship with outside agencies like UpsideDowns, with Kieran’s parents and other caregivers who are involved with Kieran’s life.

The speech and language therapy support is amazing. Kendall is Kieran’s private speech language therapist, and she comes once a fortnight.

We’ve seen huge progress in his oral language since they started working together. Previously, we were getting one-word sentences and responses, and not a lot of his own initiative to start conversations. Now, he picks up phrases like you wouldn’t believe. Today Kieran said, “Look, Mrs O. What do you think?” and I went, “I think it’s awesome!” And he said, “Thanks very much, Mrs O”, whereas at the beginning of the year, it would’ve been “Thanks”, and you might’ve got “Mrs O” on the end, but usually it would’ve just been that one-word utterance. I definitely think it’s Kendall.

Now Kieran’s using that language to converse with his peers. His peers are respecting the fact that he’s only got those few words, so when he says them, he actually really means what he’s saying. So if he says, “No, Kieran do it.” He really means, “No, I don’t need your help. I can do it myself,” which, moving forward, is really important for him to have the ability to communicate wants and needs without adults having to do it. That access is going to be powerful for his future.

We got our class value award for flexibility at our prizegiving assembly last week. Sometimes we do have to be quite flexible when it comes to things like walking in line. Kieran’s part of our class, so we have to go at his pace. We don’t go at the fastest person’s pace; we go at Kieran pace. These things teach the children to be accepting and to do that without judgement either.

And it’s hard, because they’re 5, so they’re like, “Why is he toilet training?” and I say, “Some children just develop a little bit later than everybody else, and a little bit slower than everybody else, and no one learns at the same rate”. And we talk about that all the time, so it’s part of our language, and they now congratulate him.

At the moment, we’re doing toilet sticker charts, and they ask him, “So, have you been wees? Have you got a sticker today?” and he’s like, “Yep, three!” and then he proudly takes them over to his sticker chart and shows them. It’s really nice to see all that language growth and development.

Kieran invests in people who invest in him. If you give him time, he’s going to give you time, and listen to what you want and why. I’m going to miss him terribly. Because he gives the best cuddles in the whole wide world. You get attached to all of them. But when you see such significant progress over a year, it’s super awesome. It’s why you’re a teacher, really.

– Mrs O


The UpsideDowns Education Trust help heaps of kids like Kieran learn to talk, read and write by funding speech language therapy. They're a One Percent Collective partner charity, meaning you can support them with 1% of your income. We'd love you to go find out more and give your 1%!