Rovanna Bawden, Student Support Department Head
The TIS Inclusive Education team travelled to Japan for the annual SENIA Conference. SENIA was started by a group of international school teachers in China in 2002. The intention was to create a network forum for any professionals working with children with special educational needs in Asia. The heart of SENIA is the advocacy for children with special needs in educational settings. At TIS, we are proud of our inclusive program and we fully endorse this philosophy as a school. Each year, SENIA asks teachers to nominate a student with a disability to receive an award for overcoming personal challenges and for outstanding achievement in promoting and supporting the needs of others with special needs. This year’s recipient has a story worth sharing as it warns all of us to look deeper into hidden disability.
Casey Stevenson was the winner of the SENIA Student Advocacy AWARD. She is a strong advocate for special needs. She draws inspiration from her own personal experiences, struggling with depression and anxiety as she entered her teenage years. After seeing a psychologist, it became clear that she also has characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder that were previously unidentified. Aside from her personal challenges, Casey also witnessed the challenges of her older sister who has a neurological disorder called Rett Syndrome. Casey explained in her speech that when she was first diagnosed with depression, teachers did not know what to do with her. They left her almost forgotten in class and did not know how to help her. She fell further and further behind in class. Casey shared about the days when she felt all alone and was unable to come out of her darkness and the crushing weight of the depression. She talked about contemplating taking her own life as the only way out.
Casey moved schools and realised that her new school culture could make a big difference for her. The counselors touched base with her regularly to check in with how she was doing. Her subject teachers made sure she handed in her assignments and passed her courses by offering extra time and tutoring when needed. She found peers that were supportive of her disability and treated her with respect. She also felt supported by the administration who were open to offering her options to get through her courses. Casey graduated from this school with wonderful results!
She attributes her success today to her school and their understanding of the hidden disability of depression. She asks us as educators and the community to do one thing, and that is to listen to students, to really understand what is going on and not to forget that the disability may not be apparent on the surface.
This is something we strive to do at TIS, as school that prides itself on inclusivity and of giving our students a 100% commitment to supporting them to be the best they can be. We cannot “judge a book by its cover” as the saying goes. We must always look deeper for what may be hiding. We understand every student is precious in his or her own right and we must always strive for the best outcome for him or her whatever that may be. Thank you Casey for being our inspiration!
Rovanna Bawden is the Head of the Student Support Department at TIS, a trained special education teacher, and a qualified Guidance Counselor. She believes strongly in celebrating the success of every student to be the best they can be. Her belief is that a collaborative model of teamwork is required to ensure students have not only academic support but social and emotional support in the school environment. She is committed to ensuring excellence in all students.