When I Trusted My Gut During My School Search for My Son With Down Syndrome

Our journey in search of an appropriate preschool for Carter started about six months before his third birthday. We had our first meeting with the Department of Education, and it was officially decided he would stay in early intervention until the following September, but it was clear I needed to get my search underway.

I was cautioned not to get my hopes up for an integrated setting. I was told it’s better to keep “them” in a self-contained setting for preschool and then maybe “they” can be integrated in kindergarten.

I started with a list of 13 schools, but only five offered an integrated setting. We did tours, playdates and filled out pages and pages of applications. I created a book that included all of his evaluations, little anecdotes about his likes and dislikes and blurbs about our family, which offered a peek into our lives. Even with all of this prep work, it was clear early on that most of these schools already had a bias towards putting children with Down syndrome in the most restrictive setting.

I became increasingly upset about the limitations being placed on my son, sight unseen, by a group of “professionals.” Discouraged, I continued my search, delving further into the schools that only offered self-contained classrooms. I felt in my heart that an integrated setting was truly the best placement for him.

With all the school tours complete, all we could do was wait. Finally, I received an email from one of our two top choices. They said they were sorry, but they didn’t feel Carter was the right “fit” for their program. I was heartbroken and thought we would end up at a school I wasn’t happy with and wouldn’t challenge our son.

For a second, I thought, maybe they’re right, maybe my gut is wrong. Thankfully, later that same day, I received a phone call from the director of our top choice. Her voice was full of affection and confidence when she said, “We would love to have Carter join our program in the fall. Everyone just fell in love with him. He is the perfect candidate for our school and we’d be honored to have him.” I sighed in relief and cried tears of joy.

My advice to parents just beginning this process is to take the time to decide what type of environment you want for your child before starting your search. You should seek out the advice of people you trust, including your therapists, friends and other people who have children with special needs.

Practice articulating why you’ve decided on a particular setting. Don’t just let evaluators or “professionals” lead the process. You have to take on an active role from the very beginning. Most importantly, stick to your gut and follow your heart. No one knows your child better than you do. Continue to push for the setting you think is appropriate, not the setting other people assume is the answer.

Stacey Calcano the mighty

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