Mari Mattsson: “You have to live and dream, even if you have children with special needs”

Programmes Higher education Erasmus+ Erasmus+ for higher education International traineeship Special support Internationalisation Equality and engagement
Students with special needs who have additional expenses related to their mobility periods can get extra financial support for their Erasmus+ mobility periods. Mari Mattsson has received both a fixed fewer opportunities top up for having children and inclusion support based on real costs for a home caregiver to enable her Erasmus+ traineeship in Spain.
Two pictures of a mother with a handicapped child
On the left: Mari Mattsson with her son Miio; on the right: Mari's daughter Mindi and son Miio

A 40-year-old mother Mari Mattsson is in her final year of classroom teacher studies at the University of Oulu. In the fall of 2021, Mari went on an Erasmus+ exchange period abroad to pursue a three-month teaching traineeship in Fuengirola, Spain with her daughter Mindi and son Miio, who were 11 and 10 years old at the time.

For Mari, going on a period abroad took careful consideration and planning due to her son Miio's special needs. Miio has a rare genetic syndrome called cardiofaciocutaneous (CFC) syndrome with a severe intellectual disability, a heart condition and a mild epilepsy. He is also nonverbal and uses some sign language, pictures, sounds, facial expressions and posture to communicate. According to Mari, despite his disability, Miio is almost always happy, positive, and easily adapts to new people and situations.

Mari had to find a home caregiver for her son during her traineeship abroad, which necessitated extra planning and cost. At first, she wasn't sure if she was eligible for the Erasmus+ inclusion support. After making a call to the Finnish National Agency for Education EDUFI, she learned that she was eligible for the support. She applied for and received the grant through her home university.

The financial support was enough to cover the expenses of hiring a full-time home caregiver for her son during the three-month period in Spain. According to Mari, this support was a determining factor for her period abroad.

"Without the support, I wouldn't have been able to go abroad because there was no place I could take my son for care during my working days, so the only option was to hire a home caregiver," says Mari.

A girl is reading a school book on the beach and a boy is playing in the sea.
On the left: Mari's daughter Mindi is reading a book on the beach of Costa del Sol; on the right Mar's son Miio is playing in the water.

During the three-month international teaching traineeship, Mari was able to gain experience at Costa del Sol teaching and coaching, a private Finnish school in Costa del Sol in the South of Spain. She taught a small group of 5th and 6th graders and found this experience deeply enriching in her path of becoming a teacher. Although doing a teaching internship abroad wasn't mandatory for her degree, Mari wanted to take the opportunity to do her traineeship outside of Finland because she loves to travel, especially with her family.

According to Mari, the period of abroad was also a great experience for her daughter who attended the school where she did her teaching traineeship, and for her son who loved to spend time at the beach. Mari strongly encourages others, especially parents with special needs children, to take the opportunity to gain professional experiences abroad.

You have to live and dream, even if you have children with special needs. Just pursue your dreams because if you do things bravely, you teach your kids to be brave and you also give them experiences that they wouldn't otherwise have.

- Mari Mattsson


Text: Sion Yang