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There are a few things Emily wants people to know about her. "I’m in year 5. My teacher is Miss Foster. My friends are Kelsy and Frieda, Jack and Gina. I like dancing, ballet, jazz and doing cartwheels...next week I'm swimming in a race at Homebush!"
Emily is a dancer, swimmer, big sister, friend and Year 5 student at her local school near the beach in Bronte in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs. In her spare time she likes playing with her little sister Imke and both sisters can often be found jumping on the trampoline with the kids next door. Emily's Mum Ingrid has never seen her diagnosis of Down Syndrome as something that makes her special or entitled to special treatment. Instead it has encouraged Ingrid to see Emily as a child first and helped her to realise that Emily needed to learn the same things that other kids her age need to know.
"What do I want for my child? I want Emily to have a job, be able to get around by herself, have somewhere to live and have friends. I want her to enjoy her life and be happy".
Even when deciding where Emily would go to school, Ingrid was thinking about which school would be able to give Emily opportunities to learn important life skills like how to be part of a group and socialise with others.
"When we needed to decide about a school I was prepared to visit all the schools in my local area and speak to the Principals and then make a choice. The first school I went to was our local public school. After the first 10 minute conversation with the Principal I thought why go anywhere else? The school was so welcoming".
Emily has just started Year 5 and so far the start to the year has been smooth. Emily smiles as she talks about her teacher and lists some of her friends she plays with at lunch. Ingrid comments that whilst there have been some ups and downs throughout the years, their school has been open to her feedback and being at their local school has been the right choice for Emily.
"Emily's happy. She loves her teacher and also has a teacher's aide who helps with Emily's class. Emily finds the academics like maths hard so having extra support and working on this at home has made a big difference to her confidence".
Being part of her local school means Emily is also part of the same activities that other kids are joining in after school and on the weekend. For Ingrid it's about her family doing normal things.
"Emily does ballet with kids from her class and we see her classmates down at the beach or at the local shops. Being a part of our local community makes a big difference."
Like most kids homework can be a struggle. Ingrid firmly believes homework is an important part of being one of the kids in her class.
"Emily founds some subjects like maths and reading hard so we have just had to work harder and put in the practice at home. It's worth the extra time though because Emily is making improvements. When she's older she will need to be able to read and manage money so we have to work on those skills now".
Even though high school is a few years away, Ingrid is looking towards this next transition well ahead of time. Ingrid has started visiting high schools in the local area to try and find a good fit for Emily to continue her learning.
"I have started visiting open days and talking to the Principals and support teachers. At this stage I don't know where Emily will go to high school and it’s going to be a long process. It's worth starting early"
Ingrid is also thinking about the skills Emily will need to be as independent as possible as a teenager.
''I know I will need to take Emily on the bus, teach her how to use public transport and use a mobile phone. Things like that. We'll try to do it one step at a time and take a step back if it's not working. Incidental opportunities have always been important for Emily"
While Ingrid knows there's always lots for Emily to learn and some big changes ahead for the family, Emily seems less worried. She has a swimming carnival at Homebush coming up and maybe even more exciting, Emily already knows she will have her sister Imke's Year 6 buddy when she starts Kindergarten next year.
"Next year will be a good year!"
Are you interested in helping your child with Down Syndrome learn to read? Visit www.readingourway.com.au for resources by Down Syndrome Association Queensland.
To get more information on a range of resources you can use to help your child learn to read, improve their memory and develop their number skills.
Want to find out more about your child’s rights at school? Visit the Children with Disabilities Australia website www.cda.org.au