I am on the autism spectrum and part of the Learning Centre here at Cabra. For me, autism means I struggle socially, have sensory processing difficulties, and have a hard time with some aspects of school work.
The Learning Centre has helped me with all these things, and I now feel more confident, more resilient and more capable than I did before.
I had a hard time at primary school. No-one knew how to help me, and they didn’t have the resources for anyone who didn’t fit the mould. Many mornings I would be upset, dreading to go. My mum was very worried about where she was going to send me to high school. When we visited Cabra, we knew it was the place for me. They were so caring and accepting. The learning centre welcomed me with open arms.
Although I have never required much in-class support, each year at Cabra I’ve had a lesson off in the Learning Centre, which allowed me to catch up, get help with things I’ve struggled with, and have a quiet lesson which I could rely upon to be a break from the noise and chaos of the classroom.
I was enrolled in ‘wood and metal work’ in Year 9 – not the best choice for someone with sensory issues like myself. I started to wag those classes. I would go and sit outside the Learning Centre. Soon enough they found me, but instead of being angry, they asked what was wrong. When they figured it out, we solved the problem by changing me back into art for a second semester, which I loved. The Learning Centre takes real action to help students.
When I was in Year 8, I was unsure of how to make friends. I would go into the Learning Centre at lunchtime and read. Out in the yard, it didn’t feel like a break time because I was so on edge, bothered by the noise and scared of the other kids. In the Learning Centre I was able to relax and be myself. I gradually talked to people more and more, building up my social skills. I now have friends all around the college, including a beautiful group of girls in my year level.
The very first friend I made was, in fact, a student from St Mary’s Unit. Although I’ve never been enrolled in the St Mary’s Unit, I’ve always been involved and welcome. When I didn’t show up to my Learning Centre lessons, the ESOs would come down to find me in the unit, helping out and talking to people. It has been a pleasure to watch my SMU friends reach their highest potentials with help from the lovely Cabra staff. The SMU and Learning Centre are not just groups of people at Cabra. I believe they are at the heart of our unique community. The philosophy of love and acceptance spreads throughout the school, and I am so happy to be a part of it.
Last month I was proud to walk with Mitch, who is one of my best friends, into our Year 12 formal. He may not say much, but he and I understand each other perfectly. In Year 8 I would ask the teacher things on his behalf. In Year 9 I would stand by him and whisper the words if he got stuck. And in Year 10 I watched proudly as he went up all by himself. We both appreciate how much the Learning Centre and the St Mary’s Unit have done for us.
Over the years I have needed less and less one-on-one help. I stopped going to the Learning Centre at lunch as much as I used to. I used to feel almost guilty of this, like I was abandoning them now that I was older. Then I realised that wasn’t true, I just didn’t need them like I used to. And I realised…that was the idea. To help me to find my feet, then help me to learn, then help me to help myself. And I didn’t even know it was happening. It was like learning to ride a bike. First the adult runs behind you holding on. Then they’ve let go, and you didn’t even realise. They’re still shouting encouragement but you’re doing it all by yourself and you know that they’ll be there to help you up again if you fall.
Learn to learn, learn to live, learn to fly, right? It’s true.