To the Teacher Who Believes in Our Daughter With Down Syndrome
Dear Ms. Michele:
Thank you for believing in our Abby.
Thank you for believing in yourself that you could teach a child with Down syndrome.
Thank you for rising to the challenge of communicating with a child who is non-verbal.
Thank you for helping Abby soar.
“I want to see Abby soar.” Those were the words that you said to us during Abby’s parent-teacher conference. Those were also the words that reduced my wife and me into a pair of glassy-eyed adults in much need of a tissue.
As you know, Abby is our only child. After she was born, we spent 78 days in the NICU of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. So it goes without saying that we were extremely protective of our little miracle. She was just 3 pounds at birth and still remains on the smaller size on all the growth charts. As an only child, and non-verbal, we were also very nervous about how Abby would handle herself around other adults and peers.
When we first met you, Ms. Michele, we told you that Abby was not speaking yet and used sign language to communicate. We explained that she knew about 200 signs at that point. My wife and I did detect an element of worry and concern. We could sense your discomfort with the fact that Abby could not talk. But we totally expected a reaction like that after hearing this type of news.
Flash forward to today and you have become a champion for sign language. You were extremely open to learning how to communicate with Abby through signs. Thank you for working so hard with Abby’s speech therapist to not only educate yourself in signing but to also teach your entire class to sign. You have totally exceeded our expectations. To hear the love in your voice when you share stories about the children signing in class and at home warms our hearts.
When we talked about our passion for having Abby included in a Catholic School, you shared a story with us about your friend’s brother who had Down syndrome. As a young girl, you wondered why he could not attend school with the rest of the children in the neighborhood. Now, as a professional educator, you wonder what opportunities that young man missed by not being included in the local school. Thank you for sharing your experience; it has fueled our passion to ensure Abby is always included.
The school principal told us when we first met her that she never wanted to deny a student a Catholic education because of a disability. It is teachers like you, Ms. Michele, that are making inclusive Catholic schools a reality.
Lastly, we would also like to express a heartfelt thanks for the way you and the whole school jumped right in to embrace and celebrate World Down Syndrome Day. We were so grateful to be able to come in that day and read a book about kindness to your students. Seeing everyone, including yourself, “Rockin Your Socks” for Abby and other individuals with Down syndrome, showed us firsthand the caring environment you have created in your classroom. And when the local news showed up to interview you that day, we were so proud! And we will never forget your quote, “No matter what life throws at you. You just got to pull up your pants, put on your wacky socks, and just tackle it!” Amen, Ms. Michele! Amen!
In closing, I come back to your words to us: “I want to see Abby soar.” Those words touched our hearts. Those words assured us we made the right schooling choice for Abby. Those words make us forever thankful that Abby has you as a teacher.
Abby’s Mom and Dad