Biographical Non-Fiction posted February 4, 2024 Chapters:  ...7 8 -9- 10... 

This work has reached the exceptional level
Impact on the kids ... and me

A chapter in the book Jonathan's Story

Exclusion and inclusion

by Wendy G

All three children were by now enrolled at the same school. When Joe was nine, his teacher was teaching folk-dancing to all the children in his year group.

“Come on, do it properly,” he exhorted his pupils, “You look like a lot of spastics!” This did not sit well with Joe. After the class he approached the teacher for a quiet word and asked him not to use the word “spastic”. “I have a brother who is spastic,” he explained. The teacher was gracious enough to apologise, and never used that expression again.

I was pleased, firstly because Joe had cared, also because he had the courage to do something about it, which even involved correcting an authority figure, and thirdly because he used the word “brother”, not “foster brother”, not “friend”, but that most caring of relationships, brother. He has always referred to Jonathan as his brother, implying his full acceptance into the family. He'd also chosen a poster for his room which read, “Stand up for what is right, even if you’re standing alone!”

Anna’s experience, at age fourteen, was different, and did not involve Jonathan, but to me also showed courage and a willingness to stand up for what she felt to be right, particularly looking out for someone in a vulnerable position. 

She was in a small elective class. Several of the students constantly and relentlessly goaded and provoked the elderly male teacher, making it hard for him to teach.

One particularly stressful day, he snapped, and lightly slapped the ringleader on the arm. Seizing her opportunity, the girl raced from the classroom screaming, “He hit me! He hit me!”

He did, but only lightly – and she exaggerated dramatically, making it out to be a much bigger thing than it was.

Of course, teachers must not touch students, so he would lose his job, finishing his career in disgrace. Anna went to the school principal and explained how that girl’s extreme and on-going provocation had caused the incident and asked that he not be dismissed. Her advocacy was in vain. He had to leave the school, a distressing situation.

Word of her trying to help the teacher got back to the students. From then on, for more than two years, she was the victim of ostracism and bullying. Now having no friends, she would spend lunchtime in the library. But gangs of girls would go into the library too, surrounding her and pushing her into the bookshelves, and jeering and taunting her mercilessly. Payback.

One evening, distressed, she talked to me about her problem.
“Do you still believe you did the right thing in standing up for the teacher and explaining the circumstances?” I asked her. “Yes,” she replied, “and I would do it again if I had to!”

“Then hold your head up high, and ride it out,” I replied. “You’ve done what you could, and you’ve stood for what you believe to be right, asking for justice and understanding, and I am proud of you for having that courage!”

It was not easy, but she did it. Years later, girls started asking if they could sit with her in class, if she could help them with their work – and she was voted into a school leadership role. They recognised her strength of character, that she would not be cowed or broken by bullying, and that she would stand up for what she believed to be right. She'd earned their respect. 

This was indirectly related to the many times she had stood up for her brother, explaining to staring children and adults, so they too could understand and show compassion for someone who was vulnerable.


Jonathan’s school was not far away, but I felt he was not being offered enough mental challenges. I wanted a place which would stimulate him mentally while still giving him the care he needed for his comfort and physical challenges. I did not want school to be a child-minding experience for him.

I considered enrolling him at the school for deaf and blind children, which was much further away, and took him for an "interview". Basically, it was for me to see what sort of programs and initiatives they offered. The students there had a range of disabilities from mild to severe. All had either vision or hearing impairment, along with other issues.

On that particular day, the children in the class into which he would be accepted were in the midst of a unit about foods from around the world, during which they learned about other cultures and cuisines. It is always hard to know how much they understood, but I was pleased that they were given an opportunity to learn more about the varied and diverse world we live in.

They’d had stories and had been helped to do art and crafts related to various countries. That day the focus was on food; they had helped with the cooking – and were about to do a taste-testing.

The students had learned switch technology and had mastered the skill of turning on appliances by pressing on large brightly coloured hemispherical switches. For those with poor fine motor skills this was an achievable task. Others had helped to stir or use whisks or beaters.

Jonathan was obviously pleased to arrive in time for the food. For a boy with his complex level of disability, food was very important. He always enjoyed the sensory pleasures of smell and taste, and he liked the sounds associated with using different appliances and with cooking.

Some of the students were reluctant to try “strange” food. Not our boy. He became very excited, smiling and nodding his approval with each spoonful offered. His only disappointment was that it was a “taste-testing”, not a banquet. He passed the (not very traditional) entry requirements, his general pleasure indicating he would be an enthusiastic and motivated student!

I enrolled him at this school therefore, which meant I had to have him ready earlier for the longer bus ride, and he arrived home later. But he was a sociable and cheerful person who enjoyed the stimulation and the relationships he was forming with the other students. No longer was he napping during the day.

The school had a little herb garden and a sensory garden. One of his tasks was to water the plants, holding the hose with his left hand. Many was the time he “accidentally” turned the hose on staff, who dodged and darted out of the way to avoid a soaking. He found this extremely humorous.

“Oh sorry, I can’t see very well,” or “Apologies, I lost my grip on the hose,” one could imagine him chortling, if only he could speak.

He did the same at home, when we would try to include him in as many activities as possible, including car-washing or gardening. I was establishing a garden at our new home, and included the planting of perfumed flowers and shrubs he would like. His “help” would become the family joke.

“Look out! Jonathan’s helping Mum to hose the plants!”.

One of his favourite activities was to hold flowers or scented gum leaves close to his nose and eyes, so he could appreciate the beauties of scent and sight. Whenever we took him for walks, we would also try to find flowers or small twigs for him to hold and we talked to him about their colours and perfumes.

This new school had a fund-raising wheelchair walkathon activity, in which he participated. The mobile ones helped push the ones in wheelchairs. The blind mobile ones had a staff member as a guide, making a three-person team. It was a lot of fun, and everyone was a winner.

I was glad we had chosen this school – the range of disabilities was greater, but so was the range of the programs. Jonathan accompanied his class to the nearby shopping centre – and he took turns at pressing the button, with assistance, for the lights to change for them to cross the main road, or carrying the shopping basket.

He was out in the community – and in that suburb most were used to seeing the children from the school for deaf and blind children, and they were well accepted. The man selling milkshakes and ice-creams would wait patiently, listening attentively while the verbal ones ordered morning tea for the group. This could sometimes take a while as they struggled to make themselves understood. Others would carefully count out the necessary coins. He never hurried them, and learned their names, greeting them individually each week. They were being treated as “normal” and learning living skills.

Staff communicated with me through his Communication Book, updating me regularly about his activities and progress. They knew I was a teacher.


The following year, I received a request from the school principal.

Could I … would I … consider becoming a substitute teacher there? Just for one term. A staff member would be away on long service leave. I would not work in Jonathan’s class, but with a small group of younger students with similar medical issues to his. Severe and complex disabilities.

One term. Ten weeks. Fifty days.

Jonathan would stay on his regular bus run, (where his wheelchair was strapped in, and they would collect students from a number of suburbs) as he loved a long bus ride. This would mean I could leave home later than him and return home earlier, as I would go directly there and back. I would not need to do the heavy physical work of getting him and his wheelchair into and out of my car twice more each day. Time alone while driving.

I explained that I had no formal qualifications in Special Education. That didn’t matter. I had, by now, years of life experience. They wanted me, needed me … pleaded with me.

 My world was about to change again. Just for one term. I had finished my post-graduate studies. I figured that doing this for fifty days would not kill me. I agreed.



This chapter too is a "setting the scene" chapter, filling in details of life as it was .... Various elements of these stories will resurface later.
Jonathan is non-verbal, so the interview was simply a discussion between the principal and myself.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Save to Bookcase Promote This Share or Bookmark
Print It Print It View Reviews

You need to login or register to write reviews. It's quick! We only ask four questions to new members.

© Copyright 2024. Wendy G All rights reserved.
Wendy G has granted, its affiliates and its syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.