Emily Solomon says that since her 11-year-old son began attending St Patrick’s Special School at Dulwich he has become “a different child”.
“St Patrick’s has completely changed our lives,” she said.
“Max is generally happy and content and loves going to school every day.
“His anxiety has lessened, his speech has improved, as has his ability to sit and focus for long periods of time, and his ability to self-regulate (his emotions) is amazing.”
Max started at St Patrick’s at the beginning of 2021, finding a place in a small class of six boys all about the same age.
Emily said this creates a much calmer, quieter learning environment with lots of support from his teacher Russell and two Education Support Officers.
One of the biggest challenges for Emily and her husband Jon Lardner was getting Max’s disability diagnosed.
“It took four years and four different psychologists and speech pathologists,” she said.
“Without a diagnosis it’s almost impossible to access any special needs support. But once we had a diagnosis it opened up so many doors. And the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.”
Prior to St Patrick’s, Max was at a mainstream pre-school and school. While the staff and school community were “amazingly inclusive and supportive of Max”, Emily said as he got older the gap between Max and his peers grew and it became apparent it was no longer the right fit.
“That’s when I contacted Cathy Sires (principal) at St Patrick’s,” she said.
“And to this day we feel so fortunate to be there and are so thankful to Cathy and all the staff who do an amazing job.
“The staff have special skills and qualifications specific to special needs children and that makes all the difference.”
Once a week students go bushwalking and to the gym but Max’s favourite activity is cooking with Keang, a qualified commercial chef who cooks a different, nutritious recipe with students each week. As well as learning an important life skill, Max brings home some of the delicious food he has cooked.
The move has also made a difference to the rest of family, including his brother Charlie, 12.
“When Max was at a mainstream school he was only there part time and did lots of half days which really fragmented my time,” she explained.
“Now he is at school full time which has freed up my time and allowed me to return to work.”
With Charlie now attending Glenunga International High School, Emily drops both boys off and picks them up in the afternoon but she said she was considering using the St Patrick’s school bus now that Max has settled in.
The other advantage of being part of the St Patrick’s community is that it allows the family to tap into a lot more special needs resources and support networks, some of which Emily described as “life-changing”.
For example, through the school they have accessed support care for full-day excursions on weekends and during school holidays, which helps with social skills and independence. It also enables her to continue working part time during her school holidays.
Outside of school, Max has weekly speech pathology sessions as well as occupational therapy to help with sensory input and prevent “meltdowns”.