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How My Daughter With Down Syndrome Gave Me the Courage to Speak Up for School Inclusion


It wasn’t until I had my daughter with Down syndrome, that I realized how much I took so many things for granted. The things that came so naturally for her older brothers, like walking, talking, dressing themselves, potty training, feeding themselves, learning to write, etc. Stella has to work 10 times harder and I have to work 10 times harder to help her develop these skills. Stella has taught me a lifetime of lessons in her short seven years. One of the biggest gifts she has given me, is my voice. Before Stella, I was never one to speak my truth. I avoided confrontation like the plague. Through Stella and for Stella, I learned to speak!

Education

As Stella prepared to enter kindergarten, I really started to notice the differences and the unfairness in our systems and our world. It’s when I truly learned to speak! I think God had been preparing me for this for the last few years, unknowingly to me. When it came time to speak, I didn’t think I was ready. I was terrified and wondered if I would be strong enough to use my voice. But it’s truly amazing what a person (especially a mom) can do when fighting for a cause so dear to her heart.

I spoke and for a long time, felt unheard. I came home from many IEP meetings, conferences and therapies feeling defeated. But I refused to waiver because I knew in my heart what was not only best for, but what was fair and just for my child. I refused and will continue to refuse to back down. There is no greater cause to me than fighting for my children.

I don’t want you to get this wrong — I fight for her, but I do so in an educated, well informed, gentle way because that is my nature. I also believe whole heartedly that you attract more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. So, while my fight is strong and powerful, it is also kind, loving and open-minded.

When I started this fight for inclusion in the public school system, so many people came and continue to come to me, suggesting other private school options. There are not many local private schools that offer the type of inclusion that Stella deserves, but there are a couple. So, why not pay $10-15,000 a year for her education in a school that promotes inclusion? Here’s why: It’s not about the money! Could we afford it? I’m sure we could, with sacrifices made to our budget. I’m not opposed to making sacrifices for my children, but why should I have to? My boys have received a wonderful education in our public school system almost effortlessly on my part. Why should my daughter not be able to receive the same? Well, the law states that she should!

So, yes, in some regards, it may have been easier for me to give in and send her to a private school. But what about the families who can’t afford that type of education? And what about the fairness? So, I decided to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, and to fight for my daughter’s right to the same education that her big brothers have and continue to receive. I know that I am but one voice, but I will use it to the best extent that I can to bring about change in our school systems. Continuing to back down when things get tough will bring about no change at all. I know that God gave me this mountain to climb because he knows that I can, and I will not let him or my daughter down.

Big changes take big time, but I’m patient and persistent. Inclusion is the way, it is our future and it can be our present. It benefits everyone involved and if done correctly can have such an amazing impact on so many lives. The changes need to start with the school system — educating our teachers, providing supports and transforming mindsets. No one said it would be easy; but I don’t need easy, I just need possible.

I’m asking you today, to speak! Speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves. Speak out against segregation and exclusion! Speak to everyone you know, on love, acceptance and inclusion. If nothing changes, nothing changes! I’ve seen what is possible when inclusion is done correctly. Our children’s only limits are the ones we put on them. It’s time to raise the bar!

Image Credits: Tammy Gilles

Photo submitted by contributor.