6 Lessons I Learned About Inclusion as My Son With Down Syndrome Finishes Kindergarten
“Celebrate good times, come on!” best summarizes my current mood. The last day of our son’s kindergarten year fully-included in a general education classroom is fast approaching — we made it!
At the beginning of the school year, I wasn’t certain I would make it to the end of the year, or through the next school day for that matter, but here we are. The kindergarten graduation I have visualized a million times in my mind will play out in real life this week. I could not be more proud of my son.
As I prepare for my son’s long-awaited kindergarten culmination ceremony, (insert happy dance) I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned this school year.
1. Inclusion can change the future of the world.
When we started our inclusion journey, I thought mostly about how it would benefit our son. But now, I dream about how inclusion can change the world. Earlier this year, I went into my son’s class to present a little about him to his classmates and I was so humbled by how well kindergarteners “get it.” They see my son as a friend, plain and simple. Having him in their class is teaching them that he belongs. As adults, these kids will not fear individuals with differences; instead, they will recognize the value and talents each person brings to the world. An inclusive world in the future starts with inclusive experiences now.
2. Never stop believing in your child.
Never! Don’t let the hard times (and there will be plenty) take you off-course or cause you to doubt your child’s abilities. Especially during difficult times, continue to set high expectations for your child. Believe in your child so much that people may question, and then… believe more! And when the rain clouds are circling and it feels like only dark skies are ahead, look for the rainbow (there will always be one, I promise.)
3. Others are looking to you to know how to treat your child (and your family).
As parents, we hold the power to help shape others’ perceptions of our children. Shout your child’s worth, set high expectations for him or her and never accept anything less than the best for your child. The more you believe in your child and include him/her in all activities inside and outside of class, the more others will do the same.
4. The teacher sets the tone.
If your child has an inclusive teacher, the students, parents and other support staff that work with your child will follow suit and inclusion will be successful. Show gratitude for inclusive teachers; they are integral to inclusive education working! If your child’s teacher doesn’t support inclusion, it will be an uphill battle and might make sense to request a change immediately.
5. Say “thank you,” often.
I believe a simple “thank you” can go a long way. Every day at pick-up, my son and I say “thank you” to his para-professional, I write thank you cards and emails throughout the year. I also thank the other parents for inviting my son to birthday parties and for raising kind kids. Obviously, the person receiving the “thank you” feels appreciated, which is the point, but feeling and expressing gratitude has also helped me to focus on what is going well.
6. Relationships are key!
This is perhaps the most important piece of advice I can give. Spend the time and work to cultivate the relationships with each person that works with your child. Find opportunities to step in and show extra support when needed, and always show respect and gratitude. There will inevitably be a time when something isn’t working for your child. The more involved you have been when things are going well, the easier it is to work with your child’s team to get your child what he/she needs. Additionally, don’t forget about cultivating relationships with the other parents. Attend birthday parties with your child, be involved in the classroom, and learn the names of your child’s classmates and their parents. These relationships will help you to feel a part of the classroom, too. After all, inclusion is a family affair.
An inclusive education is hard work and an investment of time. It’s messy, never perfect, and can be overwhelmingly stressful at times, but it is so worth it! Every achievement my child has had, big or small, is well worth the extra work. All the friendships he has gained are well worth the extra time. Every pride-filled smile and boost of self-confidence he shows are well worth the extra energy. Inclusion is so worth it all!
Getty image by Weedezign