The Glenleighden School – Past Parent Story

Good afternoon, I am Sarah Smith mother of Sam who attended Glenlieghden

in 1996-1997.

When Bruce from Glenleighden asked us to speak, I thought wow, and was quite chuffed to be asked, but ever since I have thought what on earth possessed me to say yes, I have never spoken to such a large audience in my life, so if I falter at times please excuse me.

I am a very fortunate woman, mother of four sons, Sam and three other boys. Sam is my second son and as was all our other boys was very much wanted indeed. We were in Sydney visiting family when I went into premature labour, and was put in hospital on a drip to stop the labour as the baby would be 5 weeks premi and it was Christmas eve, to no avail Sam arrived on boxing day, a Breech birth, quite scary and not the straight forward delivery I wished for, after which all seemed okay on the back of an experienced delivery team, the nurses put him in a sleigh (the humidicrib) and he was whisked away. Samuel weighed 2388gms (5lbs3oz), and all seemed well, within 6 weeks we headed home to Townsville our home base. For the next 12 months  everything more or less ran along well and Sam thrived, I fell pregnant very quickly again whilst breast feeding, so in a very short space of time I had three boys , three years, 18 months and a brand new baby.  The reason for telling you this is I had inklings all was not quite right with Sam, but was not taken seriously for quite some time whenever I raised my concerns, until he was in Kindy. The stock answer when I queried his speech development, not wanting to eat anything other than mash vegies or chew anything other than sausages was you have a loud older sibling who does all Sams conversing ,and you have a loud baby. Joel the eldest did tell me everything Sam wanted and needed, which was a very hard habit to change for both myself and Joel. Sam at about 18months  old had these inexplicable high temps at night for quite some time that disappeared as quick as they came, then after which he seemed to limp for a few weeks, he also had quite a few ear infections, none of this particularly unusual. There was other little things which seemed silly if you said them out loud to any professional, even friends, one day while at a park for a picnic with friends Sam was chasing around with the other kids, but when the other kids had enough and came over to us he kept running around and around this circuit, I couldn’t get him to stop till my husband picked him up and physically held him, another time it was on push bikes it was like he just didn’t know how to stop. Sam also had obsessions with clothing, in particular a Thomas Tank Engine Top, so much so that I would wash it at night after he had gone to bed to make sure he could have it on the next day in case he couldn’t be convinced to wear something else, he also had a favourite green bowl and cup, woe betide if any of the other boys even tried to use them. The Thomas the tank video came out with us where ever we went, you may think why didn’t this woman just put her foot down and say no, but you just couldn’t reason, no matter what we tried there just seemed no understanding, it was like we were punishing him, and he would just cry and cry, and to tell the truth I hated to see him so upset. He was also accident prone if anything was going to happen it would happen to Sam, continual bumps to the head, even stitches.

When Sam started Kindy our lives changed, his teacher asked to see me, could I stay back when every-one had gone, of course never expecting that what she would say , would send us on a roller coaster, that I didn’t want to go on even though she was confirming my suspicions. Sam was presenting some traits that she thought might benefit us seeing a paediatrician, my local GP didn’t think there was much to worry about, Sam would talk when he was ready, but yes she would give me a referral . Off we went to a specialist clinic in Townsville where he did specific tests at which we were told that he had significant developmental delays and his fine and gross motor skills all needing further testing. At the same time my husband’s company had offered him a job in Brisbane which would not involve any more travelling, so we were selling our house, packing and all the usual mayhem with a move. It’s hard to focus when you look at this beautiful child, and wonder what do we do, I know the Dr gave me information, but I really don’t remember much of what he said, I was just trying to absorb what developmentally delayed meant and how was this going to affect him.

We moved to Brisbane and started the hunt for a paediatrician, this took a little while but luckily we really landed on our feet, we met Dr Michael O’Callaghan at the Mater Hospital, for me he was the light bulb moment as a mother. This wonderful man had a rare gift that is given to only a few Doctors, his ability to convey information, his intuition to understand all the emotional upheaval we were going through as parents, he was very supportive, his most memorable words of wisdom to me were “Sarah you will meet well meaning people through-out this journey you are all on, they will say they are going to do this or follow up on that but quite often they don’t follow through, you will have to be strong and demand that they do what they say they will do, you  will have to nag and follow  it all up for him.  I think he rued the day he said this to me as I nagged the life out of him for any and every test that is known to man to try and make sense of why Sam was the way he was, you see I had decided that Sam had had a stroke when he had the high temps through the night, and to prove it he needed to have an MRI scan, which was quite a new thing and very expensive. It took approx 12months for me to convince Dr Michael, I looked up information in libraries, we spoke to people all over.Dr O’Callaghan put us onto a speech therapist not far from our home who told me about a school, that was in our neighbourhood, you should try to get Sam into this School as it has had some great results, it’s a private school, and it’s hard to get into, but the sooner you get Sam there the better.



So this we did, initially Sam attended workshops, then did testing and was finally accepted at the age of 5yrs 6months. This was when we all went on a steep learning curve, it’s very confronting and still as I write makes me emotional, the strict guidelines, or expectations were to say the least, were huge for us, our whole life changed we became more structured, we had to relearn our parenting skills which in a way made us question if we indeed had any parenting skills, everything we did, every word we spoke was with thought and process, but my god it worked, this gorgeous child of ours was finally starting to be understood.

When Sam started at Glenlieghden it was quite remarkable, his improvement was noticeable very quick, every Friday parents spent the day at school to help us help our child, we interacted within in the classroom, with strict rules that we had to become teacher’s aides not mothers, which was challenging at times. It gave you a great insight into the workings of the therapies, Sam in particular became almost obsessive with every new task, he seemed to need to perfect all new challenges, which is ok, but when your child is practicing cutting out circles and he nearly uses a rheem of paper,  Pleasssse, at least he would of if he had been allowed. The structured environment really suited Sam, he and his classmates actually bonded, which was a new thing as well, they seemed to gain empathy for each other and I know Sam used to worry for one particular boy in his class, I know this will sound awful but my son cared about some-one else and that made me so happy, because we had not experienced this before. The mothers bonded as well, we all had good and bad days and being able to talk to some -one who really did understand was incredible feeling of support, and no judgement was made on your child or yourself which helped me cope so much. Many problems were solved by us mother’s whilst we searched magazines for pictures for the kid’s to describe in, on and cows do you know how hard it is to find a picture of a cow with udders??


I think it was at about this time we got the results from the MRI scan, everything was fine, which was great, but for some reason I was devastated, I had pinned all my hopes on this scan that it would give us all the answers, I feel ridiculous now, but at the time, well at that point it was a very low time for me, and took me a while to accept their isn’t always a reason for things in life.


Glenlieghden pushed boundaries of not just the children but adults too and I have come to embrace this in my own life as time has gone on. Food was a constant dilemma in the house, Samuel disliked any red food, and the pre requisite for lunch at school was SALAD with BEETROOT, TOMATO and CAPSICUM. At night I would do the families lunches and my main dilemma was Sam would HELP  Mummy, So one salad was made every evening with Sam watching, and another made after he was tucked up in bed, and then sneakily put in his esky each day. I must be honest and tell you that I did try to send no red one week and was promptly reminded that we are the adults here.

Sam learnt sign language (Auslan) and his progress was rapid because of it, I can remember how ordered his speech became, finally this boy was truly talking with meaning, and to see your child become a happy child because of it was just unforgettable. We continued on at Glenlieghden going from Cockatoos to Kangaroos with such great improvement that Sam was able to attend Pre- school  at Jamboree Heights School, so we had two children in pre-school as Ethan was their too, which became a god send , every- one thought they were twins and we did not tell them any different, Ethan was same height as Sam and heavier in weight , Ethan looked after Sam and Sam looked After Ethan, this was ideal for our boy,  this became much more apparent in later years.

At the end of Cockatoos we were to move again, to Bundaberg, Glenlieghden went above and beyond in helping us relocate our child, we found a small state school local to where we lived and they had two grade 1 classes, an absolute must for our two boys, they helped us find a great speechie while the whole time Glenleighden remained available to us and gave us remote access to their expertise. As a parent knowing that back up was there gave us loads of confidence that we could make this recent move away from Glenleighden work.


Another benefit was we lived at the beach and decided to sign all the boys up to nippers, mainly for our older child Joel to try and help him settle in, but the boy who benefited most was Sam and he found his thing in life. We couldn’t keep this child out of the surf, it was like he was at one in the water,I said before about  a happy child, this was more and has never stopped to this day. Whenever he gets the chance you only have to look at Dicky Beach or Moffit Beach and you will find him on his board surfing with a huge smile talking language that I’m not sure about” like it was really sick mum” What the! .   But I digress, B’berg became a great start after Glenleighden, we stayed there until the end of grade three and were fortunate to have teachers interested in our boy and prepared to put in the time for us with him. We involved Sam in Nippers, swimming and soccer. Soccer was a challenge for Sam where his Soccer coaches were 15yrs -16yrs old lads and dedicated players themselves. They took a while to get Sam but when they realised that the other boys were starting to bully him because he would miss the pass or just totally miss the ball, these boys came to his defence and beyond their maturity gave Sam skills to not only improve his stamina and soccer skills (like kicking in the right direction)they gave him trust in someone other than Mum and Dad and family. Near the end of the season, after a match when Sam was able to get the ball off his opponent and onto another member of his team, they rewarded him with man of the match, another take your breath away moment.


I need to tell you we have had many of these, but for now I am going to tell you that we had another move to the Sunshine Coast in our Sam’s grade 4 year and guess who was there for us again that’s right Glenleighden more in a mentoring role, and again we were able to land on our feet where the beach was just down the road from us, Sam settled well into Caloundra State Primary, it was the largest school he had been too, we were fortunate again to have great teacher’s who loved their job and helped Sam. School was a lot of hard work but at the end of primary, Sam was made Vice Captain, standing up in front of the whole school community delivering speeches WOW.


I need to say a most heartfelt thank you to Glenleighden, my husband and I can honestly say that without this school I don’t know if we would have this wonderful young man who can say I love you mum today, and know what it means. This school gave him a great basis for which my husband and I forever grateful.

I also have to commend this child/ man of ours for his sheer determination to succeed. I am constantly surprised by Sam not just for his great achievements, but his constant willingness to help not just us and people we know, but strangers as well. Sam was rewarded for this in his senior year at high school, one of his teachers nominated him for the Youth Order of Australia ,which he received at Parliament house In Brisbane. The reasons he received this award was because he encouraged other students within his school ,was sports captain, his great community work, he volunteers for lifesaving Australia, Forty hour famine, and he organised fundraising and sponsorship for him and a team to swim from Mudjimba to Mooloolaba around old woman island, a mere 11 klm swim which as an  annual event , was to help a special needs school at Currimundi. As a result on that day in Parliament house, his speech was such a credit to him. We also were very proud when his own surf club awarded him the inaugural Josh Mills Award for Most Outstanding Youth Josh Mills was a well loved member of Dicky beach before he was tragically killed in Caloundra. These are very special moments, you are my inspiration Sam. I am going to introduce you to my beautiful Son Sam . Thankyou.

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