National Association of Parents of Autistic People
In November 2004, during Dr G.’s tenure as Principal in an Istituto Comprensivo (primary and junior high school) in Appiano Gentile, Mr and Mrs S. were selected and asked to be ‘sample parents’, in order to compare and contrast their expectations of school, as parents of a gravely disabled child, with school reality. After that first approach, the initial steps were taken for collaboration with GLH (Gruppo Lavoro Handicap, i.e. Disability Working Group), consisting of teachers who were already actively supporting the integration of students with special needs.
31 May 2005
A first meeting took place between GLH and about ten mothers and fathers, whose children with special needs had been looked after by a support teacher. The meeting brought to light the diverse personal experiences of parents. Some of those present expressed a desire to meet again with a view to getting to know one another better, sharing the burden of their children’s disabilities and being proactive vis-a-vis the school. Subsequently, these proposals were favorably received by GLH and by the new Principal, Dr A., who allowed us to make use of a classroom for regular evening meetings.
29 November 2005
Mr and Mrs S. suggested an initiative to the Commissione GLH (Joint Parent-Teacher Disability Committee): a competition open to students under teacher supervision, with a view to monitoring the level of assistance provided for the various disabilities. On the advice of the full school teachers committee, two films were shown (Zorba and Lucky to the primary school, The Mighty to the junior high school), followed by discussions in class.
31 January 2006
The first formal meeting of the Parents Group (Gruppo Genitori) took place, at which the GLH Committee requested nominations of parents by the Parents Group, with whom the Commissione GLH could liaise.
4 April 2006
A second meeting took place of the Parents Group. Nominations of liaison officers were received as requested by the Commissione GLH. The first proposals were flagged, with a view to integrating children with special needs (see below letter from the Parents Group to all parents).
5 October 2006
A third meeting took place. A number of proposals were given shape in relation to the 2006-2007 school year. In particular, a proposal that parents should man a dedicated desk on the December 16 Open Day. Other proposals were as follows:
That a book, Il mago delle formiche giganti (‘The magician and the giant ants’) be prescribed. The book contains a slogan which was adopted by the Parents Group: ‘At school, all are equal, all are different’;
That a meeting be held involving the Commissione GLH, the Parents Group and representatives of local authorities and human services from the district.
Parents and school: a joint undertaking
Following an initial, significant bout of activity, we, members of the Gruppo Genitori (Parents Group) wish to recap our experience, also for the benefit of those who have not yet had an opportunity to meet us and get to know us.
Our Group was born officially on 4 April 2006, in response to an invitation from the Commissione GLH (Commissione Gruppo Lavoro Handicap, i.e. Joint Parent-Teacher Disability Committee) to parents to become more involved. The Commissione GLH was already operating within the Istituto Comprensivo (primary and junior high school) for the purpose of better integrating children with special needs. The H in our acronym does not cover just ‘serious handicaps’, but includes a greater awareness of learning and behavioural problems, as well as those arising from cultural, social and religious differences, and diverse types of disability.
Between April 2006 and May 2007, a series of initiatives were promoted by our Group, based on the following objectives:
to operate as a vehicle for the progress of children with special needs through the stages of their school education;
to become a point of reference for parents of children with special needs.
On the practical side, this commitment was reflected in a series of proposals from various members of the Group. These were favourably received by the School, which assisted in their implementation:
Films were shown, followed by discussion in class.
A theatrical performance took place, involving a group of disabled people belonging to a drama collective.
On the occasion of the theatrical performance, the representatives of the Parents Group were invited to participate by the School Principal. After the show, the school children showed a remarkable interest and degree of involvement, resulting in animated debate. These signals demonstrated the existence of genuine sensitivity by the School in relation to ‘diversity’
Two induction sessions were held by specialists for all parents, even for those not belonging to our Group.
The first meeting was devoted to specific learning disorders, with special reference to dyslexia. The second meeting, which dealt with bullying, was well attended and resulted in a lively debate. The audience included a significant number of teachers.
Our Group intends to continue to hold a cycle of meetings, the first one of which has been scheduled for September-October 2007, to coincide with the opening of the school year. On the agenda will be sports and disabilities. In order to ensure the participation of the representatives of authorities, an invitation to attend will be issued to the Councillors for Sports and Human Services of the four municipalities linked to the Istituto Comprensivo in Appiano Gentile.
We are convinced that involving authorities will facilitate integration, which remains the Parents Group’s primary objective. A first step in this direction was taken at a meeting held on 29 March 2007. The meeting was promoted by the Commissione GLH and was attended by the social assistants of the relevant municipalities as well as the District Child Neuropsychiatrist, Dr A.T. On this occasion the Parents Group representatives made themselves known, asked questions and raised issues. From these beginnings, a collaborative program has emerged.
Active participation by a growing number of parents, even by those who do not experience problems relating to disability, is needed to achieve a genuine program of integration. We are willing to listen to any proposals and initiatives for collaboration from anyone who wishes to strengthen our commitment.