Nicola is a founding member of the DownsideupSA organisation and has been a source of strength, knowledge and support to parents of children with Down Syndrome, across South Africa.

Her gorgeous son Zac has recently returned to school and has shown resilience, bravery and determination in adapting to a new normal.

Thank you Nics for sharing your story so openly and honestly.

  • To return or stay at home?
  • Is it too great a health risk?
  • Can my child really wear a mask all day and is that even good for him?
  • Will he understand why he can no longer play with his friends or get near them?
  • Will this new school environment cause more harm psychologically than any benefit he will get?
  • Is there even any social benefit left at school when all the toys, books and play equipment have been removed?

These thoughts went back and forth in my mind as I agonised over the decision for both of my children as their needs are different and I wanted to be sure I was doing the best for them individually. For me the benefit of mainstream school had always been the social element and the opportunity to copy ‘up’ plus, we’d worked so hard to get him in and keeping up with his peers that in the end I decided we had to at least try.

The big day finally arrived. Social stories had been written and played ad nauseum so Zac knew what to expect. We arrived at the very end of check in to minimise the number of people around but were still immediately confronted by about 8 masked adults including the Principal wielding thermometers and clipboards which felt intimidating to me. We were not allowed to leave the car until everyone had been checked but Zac happily removed his hat and offered his forehead. We had been warned no adult was allowed out of the car but they looked the other way as I got out to undo his belt and kiss him goodbye and he was led off with his facilitator. I felt a sense of pride watching this little person stride forward into this very unfamiliar world, listen to the instructions and offer his hands for sanitising (which he hates) without complaint.

I picked him up early as he still needed to build up stamina for the long school day all over again and was very grateful his facilitator could relay his day in in-depth detail to me as I would otherwise have been very much in the dark. He’d kept his hat shield on all day; he’d done his work and been pleased to see his friends and they him. Break time had been a bit harder for him as they were asked to sit in their own square and just chat, whereas he wanted to run and chase his friends like he used to much to the horror of one of the more pedantic staff members! But did he enjoy his morning? And was he happy to go back again the next day? Yes, and Yes.

So, I guess the learning for me was not to underestimate the resilience of my child and how much he needed his friends. Yes, it’s not the world I want for him at the moment but it’s all we’ve got and that for now will have to do.”

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