When Leanne Lawtey’s youngest daughter Aleacia was getting ready for big school, she was just like any other little girl – excited, a little nervous and keen to get out into the big, wide world outside of home and preschool.
Starting school nerves
For her mum Leanne, it was a little more nerve-wracking. We all want our kids’ transition into big school to be a smooth one, but Leanne had one more worry than most parents. Leacie was born with a rare condition called Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP). The condition, which causes Leacie to use a wheelchair, is hard to diagnose and until recently she had been misdiagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. The Melbourne mum of five shares Leacie’s progress through Aleacia’s HSP Journey Facebook page.
It’s okay to ask questions
Leanne knew that the other kindy kids (and their parents) would have questions about her disability, and that some kids may feel shy about striking up a conversation. To make it easier for them and for Leacie, she penned a letter to the kids and their parents in the hopes that it would encourage them to feel comfortable to talk to Leacie and to ask her about her disability.
“I thought it important that other parents were aware so that when their kids came to them asking questions they had some answers…” Leanne says. “And that it’s OK to talk to Leacie about why she is different to them.”
A letter for Leacie’s class
This is the letter in full:
We’d like to introduce ourselves, we’re Leanne and John Lawtey, our daughter Aleacia (Leacie) is in your child’s class this year. Your child may come home with questions about Aleacia and we thought we would send this letter out to help explain a few things.
Aleacia has Cerebral Palsy or CP for short, she was born with this disorder, and it is not contagious. Somewhere along the way during pregnancy something happened to the part of her brain that controls movement so now her muscles are very stiff and she can’t control them very well.
Aleacia uses a wheelchair, walking frames and a few other special items to help her with her daily activities. She wears AFO’s (ankle foot orthosis) on her legs to keep her feet straight and ankles strong. She can walk using a frame and she can crawl on the floor. Her speech is clear, although she is a bit quiet and hard to hear in noisy situations.
But she is just like any other little girl, she loves to sing and dance (in her own way), she LOVES Dora the Explorer and playing all sorts of imaginative games. She can draw, paint, colour-in and do all the same crafts and things other little girls her age do. Playing in the sandpit and other outdoor games she also loves but she just needs a bit of help sometimes or takes a bit more time than other kids.
Leacie has a wicked sense of humour and is happy and outgoing. She loves parties and celebrations, so please feel free to invite her to these as even though she can’t do some things by herself, my husband or I would stay with her and help her have great fun.
Please don’t feel embarrassed if your child stares or is curious, just tell them to go talk to her, ask her questions. Aleacia will tell them plainly that her muscles don’t work properly, and most children are happy with this answer. Many kids think her wheelchair is cool and want to check it out.
We are more than happy to answer any questions you may have (there’s no such thing as a silly question), so please feel free to approach or contact us on _________.
Look forward to seeing you around.
Leanne & John
Leacie loves big school!
Leanne reports that the letter was a great success, with Leacie making a lot of new friends and settling into big school nicely.
“She has gone through school feeling accepted and loved by the other kids,” she says.
Let’s keep sharing …
In sharing her letter publicly, Leanne hopes that it will encourage parents to speak to their children more openly about diversity and inclusion.
Here at Babyology, we hope for the same. Because every kid deserves to be treated equally and with respect.
We are incredibly glad Leacie had a great first day at school!