The decision to send our disabled daughter to a main stream school was not taken lightly. We discussed the pros and cons of options for a long time before finally taking the plunge and sending her to mainstream school. We hoped that the social side of school would enrich her life and encourage her development. We were terrified she would feel different but more than that we were terrified she would at some point be picked on or experience bullying.
She made friendships quickly, I'm not one for gender stereotypes but I have always found that girls seem to have more time for Allissa. Like this little lady who has been close pals with Allissa since nursery school!
The boys who have known her since nursery always include her and will chat and say hi but the girls were the ones who would seem to form real friendships with her. We have only ever experienced positive attitude from the children in her school towards her but I still always felt wary, protective and worried especially thinking about the older kids.
One day when Allissa was in primary 3, I was getting her out of the car after her riding lesson. There was a couple of older boys casually leaning against the bike racks and watching me closely. I felt them watching me, I looked at them and in my head I prepared what I would say if any sniggers were heard or rude remarks made. I was ready. However I was not ready for what actually happened.
The boys waited until I had Allissa out of the car, I headed up toward school, 'Are you Allissa's mum?' one of them said. I replied with a simple, 'yes' I really was quite short with them because I was waiting to see what they were about. 'Where has she been?' they were so confident and mature I was really taken a back. 'RDA, I said, its horse riding' their faces dropped, 'WOW, she can do that?' they seemed genuinely interested, I felt slightly more comfortable, 'yes, she has ridden since she was 4 years old, she is really good, she has a person walking next to her to make sure she is safe and someone leads the pony but she does the steering herself' They asked some more questions and l think I showed them some photos on my phone, eventually I asked, 'how do you know Allissa?' the boy who I now know as Daniel told me that he looked out for her in school and the playground and helped her a bit. I said thanks, made sure I got their names and took Allissa back into school, Daniel offered to do it but I said I had to hand her over to a teacher.
As I left the car park I felt tears rolling down my cheeks, what a well spoken well mannered kid and to be so interested in Allissa I was amazed. My heart was so full of emotion. Then my head took over, what if he was not who he presented himself to be, what if he was actually not kind, what if he was laughing at me and my daughter? Ach maybe he had a disabled family member there must be a reason for him being so interested. I couldn't work out if this boy truly was who he seemed to be or if I was being duped by a very clever little monster.
I spoke about my dilemma to a couple of friends some agreed with my heart and some agreed with my head, I asked around, who was this kid? One person in particular reassured me completely, she had seen him interact with Allissa in school and in the playground and had only good things to say.
Over time and after further encounters I have become completely mortified that I ever doubted Daniel. Allissa's face lights up when she sees him and despite the fact that he is a sporty 12 year old with awesome hair he never refuses her demands for a cuddle and the guy doesn't even flinch when she slaps a wet kiss on his cheek! That in itself makes him a hero in my eyes.
Over the past two years I have watched Daniel, he is quiet but always polite, always interested and always engages with Allissa. It doesn't matter if he is surrounded by friends, in school, at the park or on his bike in the village he always makes time for her. Its not just Allissa though, he makes time for many other kids who face additional challenges and I notice that he and his friends are also always lovely to the little ones too, they always speak to Freddie and high fives are flying all over the place. He thinks about them, he worries about them and he helps as much as he can. I have often said to Daniel that I am grateful Allissa has a friend like him at school, he doesn't seem to relish praise he rather shrugs it off with a shy smile like its no big deal.
Daniel, I want you to know that it is a big deal, its a huge deal. You put my fears of how children saw and treated Allissa to rest, you showed me that I didn't need to be protective over her all the time because other people also care about her enough to protect her too. You also were brave enough to quietly make kindness cool at your new school! That's an amazing achievement. Allissa has many friends who chat to her and take an interest in her and I believe part of that is down to you!
Here is a picture of Daniel's twin brother Liam and Keigan who are also part of Allissa's morning welcome committee at school!
You once mentioned to me that you want to help disabled people when you are older as a job. I don't know what career path you will take but what I do know is that no matter what job you end up doing your kindness will make you go far.
You will make a difference in the world because of who you are not what you do, whether you are a sports coach, a taxi driver, a Doctor, a teacher, a social worker, a physio therapist or a hairdresser you will make a difference in peoples lives because you are kind, you are caring and you have empathy. People matter to you, you see past disability and that's not something everyone can do.
I know you are sad to leave primary school and go up to the Academy but you are destined for great things, Allissa will follow you up in a couple of years and I wont be half as worried about her knowing you are there still making kindness cool. Mature and responsible beyond your years please remember to put yourself first sometimes, enjoy your time at the Academy.
Thank you so much for being you, I don't think you quite understand how awesome you are. My hope for you is that you always know your worth and don't ever change. I am so glad your path crossed with Allissa's.