To the Kindergarten Class of My Child With Special Needs
I have never walked this specific path before. I have taken kids to school on their first day of kindergarten and cried after drop off. I have been nervous for new adventures, but known in my heart they would love it. But I have never had to navigate public school with a child who had special needs.
Our time at our daughter Reese’s last school was special because the program was for children with disabilities. Many types of needs and diagnoses could get you into the program, and half of the day was devoted to inclusion into mainstream classes. I really thought the transition for me would be much easier than it is.
I am three weeks away from sending Reese into a classroom that is 100 percent mainstream. She’s absolutely ready for this. She knows all of her letters, the sounds of letters, her numbers and how to add them. She’s full of jokes and smiles, she can run around and play with her friends and she loves to be silly.
So here I am writing an open letter to her teachers and friends. Friends who are too young to even read, and teachers she may have in the immediate future or years to come. And to all teachers and friends of those who have a new kid in class who is just has something extra special and different about them. Please keep these five things in mind when you’re with my daughter:
1. Be patient.
It may take Reese an extra second to answer your question, but it’s there. She’s just too busy thinking about whether her answer is correct or not. Remind her she does, in fact, know the answer so she can just say it. Also, she may forget that same answer tomorrow when you ask. She knows it but just can’t get to it as quickly. But man, oh man, she can’t wait to see your eyes light up when she gets the answers correct. If you don’t understand something she says, try again later and you will. She has so much to say if you just wait for it.
2. Be safe.
This is all overwhelming and new — just like it is for a lot of kindergartners. But for Reese, she doesn’t really understand how new or different this is from previous years. School was a safe place for her. It was a place where all of her teachers were her best friends and her classmates were just like her.
She’ll see kindergarten the same way, so please help her remember that it is, as always, the safest and best place to spend your day. Give her a hug when she’s sad and don’t just say that I’ll be coming back at the end of the day. Help her up when she falls instead of telling her to brush it off. Sometimes being a safety net is just as important as teaching those life lessons. She just wants a cuddle once in a while, but teaching her a lesson on getting out of your seat will break her spirit for a week. She is a rule follower and will never have her “name on the board” or “points taken away” or anything like that. She can’t wait to help you as soon as she trusts that you’ll let her. This is what happens when kids spend a lot of time at the hospital. As they grow up, they have to learn to trust that the people in the room will be the same ones who will keep them safe from harm.
3. Be kind.
Reese’s AFO (ankle foot orthoses) boot has a cheetah print. That’s pretty cool, right? It helps her so her toe doesn’t drop when she’s trying to walk. She also can’t use her right hand that well. We call it “bad arm,” and it does what it needs to do and learns more every day. Her front teeth are gone because some of her meds ruined them. But who wants to brush that many teeth anyway? Reese’s hair is short and awkward, because she was basically bald this time last year. I knew she’d start kindergarten with a cute bob. She’s just like you. She wants to play with you and make you laugh even if she’s the size of a 3-year-old.
4. Be diligent.
It takes Reese a few more minutes to get things done in the bathroom. I’ll try to keep her in short dresses so she doesn’t have to deal with leggings often. But please keep an eye on how long she’s been in there. It’s possible she’s just trying to get her undies into the back of her leggings and “bad arm” is being a pain. Maybe send a friend in to get her. She will have an aide on the playground, at first, to teach her the boundaries, but please try to remind her in other locations to “step” because she only has one eye to catch that drop. Eventually, she’ll remember where all the steps are, but she just needs you to be her extra eye for a bit.
5. Be you.
Reese can’t wait to get to know her new friends and teachers. She loves so fiercely, and I can’t wait for her new school to get to know her like the last one did. I want to cry when she graduates kindergarten because I loved everyone so much. I want to miss her daily because she just loves school so much and can’t wait to go the next day. I would never tell someone how to do their job or be someone they’re not, but it’s also important to help people know who Reese is. And she’s just so many things that are worth waiting for.
Next stop: kindergarten.
Follow this journey on This Year’s Love Will Last.