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What I Want Educators to Know on World Down Syndrome Day

Every child wants to be included. So how do we make this happen?

I’m proud to work for a school district that holds itself to a high standard. At Allen Park we are the exception. We give our students every support possible early on to help them succeed in the least restrictive environment. This is not always the case.

My daughter Amelia turns 9 years old next month. She began receiving early on support at 6 months old. She crawled, talked and walked on schedule with her peers. We moved to Taylor because we heard great things about their ECP program. She had hearing issues and multiple surgeries throughout her early childhood. Because of this, her speech and overall progress stalled.

When she started kindergarten they expected her to be in general ed by first grade. Her teacher left mid year for a better position. They had a sub for three months. At the same time, I went through a divorce with her father. These circumstances affected her development, much like it would for any other student.

In first grade I was told she would be in gen ed by second grade. When the time came for second grade, the school refused to start her off in gen ed, much to the teacher’s recommendation. We sent her to the second grade special education room. The teacher was over capacity, often without support staff and very burnt out.

On Amelia’s second day of school the teacher called me to say it wasn’t the right placement for her and requested to put her to half days and send her to the Cognitive Impairment room. I fought for her to receive a Functional Behavioral Assessment and Behavior Intervention Plan. I then made the choice to transfer her to a center-based program. It was a difficult decision, but I knew the district we were in did not have the support she needed. I couldn’t watch my child fall through the cracks of a broken education system.

This is her second year in the program. Her speech and behavior have improved tremendously. She no longer has meltdowns over going to school. We spend IEP meetings gushing about how amazing she is. She has friends and teachers that care about her. She is included.

Would things have been different if Amelia had received the support we provide here at Allen Park? I can’t be certain. Special education is not one size fits all.

As educators, we need to continue to hold ourselves to a high standard. Taking five minutes out of our day to show a video about awareness, or to discuss disabilities, can change the world for these kids.

Our students will leave school and become educators. They will become doctors. They will become parents to children with and without disabilities. The change starts with us. We must be the example. Your commitment to see the student for their abilities can change the world.