The day my five year old changed her class without saying a word

imageLike every mum I was terrified when my baby started full time school. Even as I dressed her in her shirt and tie I wondered yet again if mainstream was going to be the right place for her.

I had more reason than most to worry as she left that day still unable to dress herself and not yet potty trained, diagnosed with autism and selective mutism, and despite having had an extra year at nursery already, she was still one of the smallest children.

On top of all that she carries a heavy burden wherever she goes even at the tender age of five.

I often wonder if professionals realise the daily weight that siblings carry on their shoulders every day?

As well as her own diagnosis my beautiful blue eyed girl is the twin sister of a boy with even more complex needs. He has tumours, severe autism, challenging behaviour, global delay and is non verbal. She has to live with that at the fragile age of five.

How would she manage without him as his school placement was 14 miles away from hers? How would anyone know to meet her personal needs if she was unable to talk? Would her anxiety, vulnerability and tiny size make her an easy target for bullies? Would her home life stress cause issues with her learning?

I worried. And wondered.

But something changed that first week she started school. And one day her classroom assistant told me that my special, fragile, silent girl had actually changed that whole class of new starts without even saying a word.

It turns out there were two other children in her class who were also silent, but for a very different reason: they were unable to speak English. For ease of teaching my daughter was sat next to these children so the one assistant could help them all. But none of the teachers spoke Russian and everyone was still trying to work out the best way to help this group of children who due to inclusion had all been placed in the same mainstream class.

The teacher taught a lesson and the children sat on the floor. My baby girl sat and listened intently and returned to her seat. The class had been asked to draw a picture and write their names at the top of the sheet. As all the eager children started to pick up pencils and pens Naomi just sat there. She watched as the classroom assistant struggled to help the two others who had no understanding of what had been asked of them.

As another child momentarily distracted the assistant Naomi got up from her seat and walked over to the two children. She took the water holder from the middle of the desk and pulled it beside them. And silently she took each child by the hand and pointed to their own name and then pointed to the top of their paper. She then picked up a crayon and began to mark their paper every so slightly and pointed to what the others were doing.

She waited while they took in her attempts to communicate without language and slowly they began to copy down their name and begin drawing. She looked at them and smiled. And only then did she return to her own chair to try and write her own name.

The classroom assistant cried. The teacher watched.

The most unlikely child in the class had taught them all a lesson that day. The child diagnosed with a communication disorder actually showed them all how to communicate.

She still does not know one word of Russian. But living with a non verbal brother with complex needs taught her something that changed her entire class of children without her saying a word: it doesn’t need words to help people.

I still worry. But I know that in all she lives with she is somehow managing to turn ashes to beauty. And I could not be more proud of her.

This article was originally published on firefly and can be seen here:



28 thoughts on “The day my five year old changed her class without saying a word

  1. Pingback: The day my five year old changed her class without saying a word | faithmummy

  2. Real thought and feeling in what you’ve written. We all crave an education system that can be this alive to the nuances of experience. A real understanding of how we grow, learn and find our place on the world. Thank you for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You have got every reason to be so proud of her . She s not just beautiful but one strong little lady with emotional intelligence . I can’t stop crying right now and i m not ashamed of it ! My very best wishes fr you all xx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am a teacher but hearing stories like this remind me why I wanted to teach in the first place.

    Your little girl is absolutely gorgeous and obviously a credit to the love and care you provide her and her brother. You must be so proud x

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am a teacher who has worked with both special needs students and typical students. I currently
    Teach 175 7th graders every day 20% are special needs and about half are English Language Learners. Every teacher should have the experience of an amazing child like yours. After 29 of teaching I find that I probably learn more from the students than they do from me.

    Liked by 1 person

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  9. My name is Vincent I am chinese , your daughter’s story is really sweet , she is very kind , I am very sure that she will do well in her life , trust her ~

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Three Reasons to vote for Naomi Gwynne in the National Diversity Awards | faithmummy

  11. I am sat here with rears running down my face I absolutely feel so proud of your daughter for helping her peers.
    I love how our children can help others n are great teachers to grown-ups too.
    I have a son who is 5 and is starting school this week he is also nonverbal but his sister who is 3 is definitely a chatterbox is starting nursery the same day.
    Thank you for sharing your children’s days as it really is so lovely to hear about their achievements 😃

    Liked by 1 person

  12. What an amazing day that must have been… what an amazing young lady. I love hearing about your children and your positivity must be a huge help other families. I would love to have been in the classroom xx

    Liked by 1 person

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