Jen Franklin Kearns

@jenfranklinkearns | contributor
Jen Franklin Kearns is a mother of three who dabbles in writing and excels in sarcasm. When she isn’t busy driving her children to dance classes, basketball and soccer practices, or school events, she enjoys reading and perusing nonsense on social media. Jen is a tireless advocate for inclusion and equal rights for all, but her advocacy efforts focus primarily on issues which directly affect her son with Down syndrome. Follow this journey on Coffee and Inclusion.

The Class of 2020 and the Future of Disability Inclusion

Dear Class of 2020, Thanks to current events, I know you have probably heard more speeches, and read more addresses, than recent graduating classes. Please indulge me as I add to that collection. This year, my son Alex’s freshman year in high school, I’ve sat to the side at many events and just observed. I wanted him to experience high school like any other kid, but because he has Down syndrome, I was really worried about how everything would work out. So, I lurked and observed, ready to swoop in as needed. Looking back, I didn’t have to do that very often, and a lot of that is because of the friendship you offered him. I watched as you excitedly cheered his arrival at football games, exchanged special handshakes, supported him at the Columbus Buddy Walk, picked him up to go eat chicken strips, showed up to his not-so-surprise birthday party, invited him to be a small part of your sports teams, and partnered with him in your broadcast class. Most recently, I’ve overheard countless FaceTime calls where, even if he just called you the day before, you chatted with him and set up times to play Fortnite together. I watched many times as you have literally scooted over to make room for him, in a world where too many are reluctant to do that because he has Down syndrome. While this has meant the world to Alex, it means just as much to his family, and it gives me hope that he will continue to have a great experience with friends as he moves through high school. Not only have you beautifully included him, you make it look effortless. It may not seem remarkable to you to do these things, but I want you to know that it truly is, as there are many adults in our world who still struggle to do what seemingly comes so easily for you. While inclusion is not always easy, it is important and I feel like you understand that. Thank you for setting the pace. As your next chapters begin, I can only hope you will take Alex’s friendship along with you and remember that he will always be here to cheer you on. One of his best traits is his loyalty; once you’re his friend, you’ll always be his friend. As you move on and do amazing things in this world, I hope you’ll continue to be inclusive. Think of him when you are presented opportunities to be leaders, and how much he would appreciate the chance to be treated as a peer rather than an afterthought. People with Down syndrome are able and willing to be equal members in their communities, but they need more people to partner with them to make that happen. I believe each of you can help us make that transition. I can’t wait to continue to sit to the side and watch that happen. Congratulations, Class of 2020!

Read This If You're a Parent of a Child With a Disability

It’s that time in the holiday season when our news feeds are full of end-of-year reflections and resolutions for the upcoming year. It seems to be even more amplified now as we approach a shiny, new decade. It’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement, and even the anxiety of it all. Did we accomplish all of our goals? Have our advocacy efforts been effective? Are we doing as much as we can to help our kids with disabilities reach their full potential? Those thoughts can be overwhelming. It can be daunting to think ahead to the new year when you don’t feel like you’ve done all you can now. But parents, please remember this — you are enough. You may not be an expert yet in your child’s diagnosis and rights, but you know what’s best for your child. You may not have sent all the emails, read all the books or made it to all of the appointments, but you loved your kid and you showed up every day to support them as best as you could. Your highlight reel may not feature the same accomplishments you see on your friends’ social media, but you cherished your accomplishments and those of your kiddo. Your goals for 2020 may not be as ambitious as those you are surely reading this week, but you know what you need to do to continue to best support your child. You are trying. You are making progress. You are enough. I’ll be here cheering you on. Here’s to an amazing 2020!

Community Voices

What was your go-to song this year? 🎵

<p>What was your go-to song this year? 🎵</p>
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Community Voices

Share a song that relates to how you feel right now 🎵

<p>Share a song that relates to how you feel right now 🎵</p>
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Michelle Tetschner

Summer Camp for My Son With Down Syndrome

My son came home from camp today. While this is something a lot of families experience every year, our story is different. My son has Down syndrome. With my son, it’s not easy to just pick any camp and sign him up. Many camps won’t take him. It’s that simple — they won’t take him. But Camp Pals is different. They get it. They love our kids! Camp Pals was created by a sister so her brother with down syndrome could attend camp. She would go away to camp every summer and her brother had to stay home. She decided that wasn’t fair. She wanted to change it. So, amazingly, she did. She first created a small camp in Philadelphia where there was a nursing staff, one-to-one peer counselors and a whole bunch of fun. Then she went on to expand that idea. Camp Pals now has 12 locations around the United States serving over 1000 campers each summer. These campers stay at college campuses in dorms for a week, go on excursions, have a ton of fun, and of course there’s dancing! They have one-to-one peer counselors, and these peer counselors (ages 15-20) agree to interviews, training and spending one week of their summer vacation at camp. They bond with their camper, they sleep over with this camper, they pledge to spontaneous dancing, commit to having a positive attitude, they agree to being a role model and mentor and to have a blast doing it! And dance! As we attended the closing ceremony of the camp, we saw the tears being shed by campers and counselors alike. Parents were crying, and I cried as well. The premise for this camp is amazing. I am grateful for a week where my child was able to go and be a “typical” camper. I am grateful for the break I received as a parent. I am humbled by the idea that you see my child to be as wonderful as I do. I am inspired to push for more inclusion so other youth can see my son, and see how brave he is, how talented he is, and how joyful he can be. I am thankful from the very depth of my heart.

Dear Parents of 'Typical' Kids, We Need You as Allies in Our Schools

As it does each year, the summer break has quickly passed and we’re now in back-to-school mode. Meetings are set, new shoes and clothes are purchased, and the excitement of learning a new schedule is beginning to escalate. The first day of school will be here before we know it. During this frantic build-up to the new academic year, I am beginning to see the reminders on social media on how to teach our children about their peers with disabilities. These beautiful articles and essays are so important, but I think we also need to remind our adult peers how we should interact with students in our communities who need additional supports. My oldest son, a rising freshman with Down syndrome, is so fortunate to have a strong network of friends. These friends come with supportive parents; there are adults in our community I can depend on to be an extra set of eyes in certain social and school settings. There are other adults, though, who need additional guidance on how to interact with kids like my son. While I’m absolutely certain that their intentions are good, it’s time we raise the bar and learn to be more inclusive. Far too often, it seems like adults are speaking to my son as though he is much younger than he is. This is frustrating for him; he really wants to be seen as any other kid his age. I’ve caught him shooting me annoyed glances when someone talks to him like he’s 4 years old. Once, a well-meaning lady asked him, in that slow, high-pitched voice reserved for young children and dogs, “How are you today, buddy?” He responded, matching her tone perfectly “I’m fine, thanks.” I was first mortified but then proud, because I felt like he was sending a clear message and advocating for himself. It was obvious that at that moment, he’d had enough of the baby talk. The next time you speak to an individual with disabilities, ask yourself if you are treating them with the dignity and respect that you would expect to receive. Along the same lines, please know that it’s not “cute” when my son participates in school activities just like all of the other kids. This past school year, when my son was talking about an upcoming basketball game, the person he was chatting with looked at me, confused. When I explained he was a member of the eighth grade basketball game, her response was, “Oh! That’s so cute.” Cute? No. Can you imagine telling another 14-year-old boy that his participation on a sports team is “cute”? Why not just respond as you would to any other kid, “Cool!” or “That’s great!” or “How’s the season going?” Because my son has a disability, she felt that this was an appropriate response. Of course, she meant no ill will with her statement, but this is certainly another example of how we can improve the treatment of individuals with disabilities in our communities. If you notice that a school setting (like the cafeteria or playground), event (like a music program or field trip), or group (like student council) does not have any children with disabilities participating, please inquire about it. The answer could be that there wasn’t any interest among the kids with disabilities, but many times it’s because the consideration to include them just isn’t there. The, “We’ve Always Done It This Way” practices run strong through some schools, but often it only takes a bit of encouragement to make a change. It’s important that these inquiries come from all parents in the community, though, and not just parents like me. This is how we’ll create more diverse, welcoming environments for our kids. Should you discover that your children are befriending kids with disabilities, feel proud that they are setting an inclusive example for their peers! I encourage you to offer your kids some additional coaching on how to be a good friend. My son chatters on and on about all of the friends he has at school, but we have only met a handful of these kids. As he gets older, the social opportunities are dwindling. I’m realizing that this is because kids this age set their own social calendars, and while that’s great, I do wish some would consider that my son would like to be included outside of the school day. While we are thankful for the awesome friends he does have, he often appears lonely after school hours. I’m guessing that most kids are just uncertain about how to invite him to join them at social events. Perhaps they don’t realize that he wants to be included. My husband and I have found that when we have encouraged our son to reach out to friends, they are happy to reciprocate. I believe that if more of his peers feel empowered and better understand our son’s abilities, they would feel more confident in including him at all levels, and truly being his friend. It may seem unnatural for parents to coach their older kids on how to make and keep friends, and they may not willingly accept the insights at first, but these lessons are important for all parties involved. As parents of a student with a disability, my husband and I need more parent allies in our community in order to grow the inclusive opportunities that some take for granted. I’m willing to bet that other families like ours would say the same, regardless of where they may live. As the new school year takes off and we remind our kids to be kind to their peers with disabilities, it is the perfect time to evaluate our own behaviors. As a result, we will build better and stronger communities, which will benefit us all in the long run.

Dear Parents of 'Typical' Kids, We Need You as Allies in Our Schools

As it does each year, the summer break has quickly passed and we’re now in back-to-school mode. Meetings are set, new shoes and clothes are purchased, and the excitement of learning a new schedule is beginning to escalate. The first day of school will be here before we know it. During this frantic build-up to the new academic year, I am beginning to see the reminders on social media on how to teach our children about their peers with disabilities. These beautiful articles and essays are so important, but I think we also need to remind our adult peers how we should interact with students in our communities who need additional supports. My oldest son, a rising freshman with Down syndrome, is so fortunate to have a strong network of friends. These friends come with supportive parents; there are adults in our community I can depend on to be an extra set of eyes in certain social and school settings. There are other adults, though, who need additional guidance on how to interact with kids like my son. While I’m absolutely certain that their intentions are good, it’s time we raise the bar and learn to be more inclusive. Far too often, it seems like adults are speaking to my son as though he is much younger than he is. This is frustrating for him; he really wants to be seen as any other kid his age. I’ve caught him shooting me annoyed glances when someone talks to him like he’s 4 years old. Once, a well-meaning lady asked him, in that slow, high-pitched voice reserved for young children and dogs, “How are you today, buddy?” He responded, matching her tone perfectly “I’m fine, thanks.” I was first mortified but then proud, because I felt like he was sending a clear message and advocating for himself. It was obvious that at that moment, he’d had enough of the baby talk. The next time you speak to an individual with disabilities, ask yourself if you are treating them with the dignity and respect that you would expect to receive. Along the same lines, please know that it’s not “cute” when my son participates in school activities just like all of the other kids. This past school year, when my son was talking about an upcoming basketball game, the person he was chatting with looked at me, confused. When I explained he was a member of the eighth grade basketball game, her response was, “Oh! That’s so cute.” Cute? No. Can you imagine telling another 14-year-old boy that his participation on a sports team is “cute”? Why not just respond as you would to any other kid, “Cool!” or “That’s great!” or “How’s the season going?” Because my son has a disability, she felt that this was an appropriate response. Of course, she meant no ill will with her statement, but this is certainly another example of how we can improve the treatment of individuals with disabilities in our communities. If you notice that a school setting (like the cafeteria or playground), event (like a music program or field trip), or group (like student council) does not have any children with disabilities participating, please inquire about it. The answer could be that there wasn’t any interest among the kids with disabilities, but many times it’s because the consideration to include them just isn’t there. The, “We’ve Always Done It This Way” practices run strong through some schools, but often it only takes a bit of encouragement to make a change. It’s important that these inquiries come from all parents in the community, though, and not just parents like me. This is how we’ll create more diverse, welcoming environments for our kids. Should you discover that your children are befriending kids with disabilities, feel proud that they are setting an inclusive example for their peers! I encourage you to offer your kids some additional coaching on how to be a good friend. My son chatters on and on about all of the friends he has at school, but we have only met a handful of these kids. As he gets older, the social opportunities are dwindling. I’m realizing that this is because kids this age set their own social calendars, and while that’s great, I do wish some would consider that my son would like to be included outside of the school day. While we are thankful for the awesome friends he does have, he often appears lonely after school hours. I’m guessing that most kids are just uncertain about how to invite him to join them at social events. Perhaps they don’t realize that he wants to be included. My husband and I have found that when we have encouraged our son to reach out to friends, they are happy to reciprocate. I believe that if more of his peers feel empowered and better understand our son’s abilities, they would feel more confident in including him at all levels, and truly being his friend. It may seem unnatural for parents to coach their older kids on how to make and keep friends, and they may not willingly accept the insights at first, but these lessons are important for all parties involved. As parents of a student with a disability, my husband and I need more parent allies in our community in order to grow the inclusive opportunities that some take for granted. I’m willing to bet that other families like ours would say the same, regardless of where they may live. As the new school year takes off and we remind our kids to be kind to their peers with disabilities, it is the perfect time to evaluate our own behaviors. As a result, we will build better and stronger communities, which will benefit us all in the long run.

Mi Salud Mental Como Madre de un Niño Con Discapacidades

Nota del editor: ¡Gracias por leer The Mighty! Por ahora, como te darás cuenta, la mayoría de nuestro contenido está en inglés. Estamos empezando a cambiar esto porque, aunque estamos ubicados en los Estados Unidos, nuestra comunidad es global. De cualquier manera, ahora mismo puedes publicar en nuestro sitio o hacer preguntas en español — o en cualquier idioma que desees — para conectarte con otras personas en nuestra comunidad. Y no olvides seguir nuestra página en español! Ser madres y padres es un desafío. No importa cuántas fotos felices publiquemos en línea, todos sabemos que de alguna manera, en algún lugar, cada uno de nosotros está luchando con un aspecto u otro de la crianza de nuestros niños. Puede ser una lucha temporal, pero cada persona tiene sus problemas. Es la realidad de la crianza. Criar a un niño con una discapacidad ciertamente eleva ese desafío. Las discapacidades de mi hijo me mantienen alerta todo el tiempo. No hay un momento en el que no esté pensando en él ni en algo relacionado con él. Añade todos los pensamientos típicos de la madre desconcertada que corren a través de nuestras cabezas a diario, y obtienes algo como esto: ¿Está a salvo? ¿Siente que lo han entendido? ¿Reprogramé las citas con el dentista? ¿Se está comportando en la escuela? Realmente necesito dejar de comerme mis sentimientos. ¿Estoy haciendo lo suficiente por mi hijo? ¿Saqué algo del congelador para cenar? ¿Dónde puse ese papeleo? Necesito borrar algunas de las fotos de mi teléfono. ¿Debo solicitar otra cita? ¿Qué puedo hacer para que mis otros hijos se sientan valorados e importantes? ¿Volverá a dormir en su habitación? ¿Qué día es? Realmente espero que nadie entienda esa palabrota grosera que dijo en el supermercado. A menudo, estos pensamientos son rápidos y aparecen al mismo tiempo en el lapso de un par de minutos. Puede hacer que mi cabeza gire. Pero después de 13 años, me he acostumbrado a correr a un alto nivel de estrés todo el tiempo. Normalmente estoy bien, pero de vez en cuando se hace evidente que al lidiar con todo el estrés añadido de criar a un niño con una discapacidad, que mi propia salud mental recibe una paliza. Estoy cansada, estoy frustrada con los problemas que no se resuelven lo suficientemente rápido, y me pongo en último lugar en la larga lista de cosas que necesitan mi atención. Los correos electrónicos se acumulan, el peso se gana (porque comer pastelitos es más divertido que procesar sentimientos), las amistades caen en el camino. Darse cuenta de estas consecuencias se suma al estrés que ya se ha acumulado, creando un ciclo horrible donde te sientes super abrumada. Por lo general, las madres no son excelentes para poner sus propias necesidades por delante de las de sus hijos, y en mis observaciones, eso es aún más cierto en la comunidad de padres que tienen hijos con discapacidades. Hay demasiado trabajo que hacer, así que seguimos adelante. Pero sé que necesito descansar. Sé que necesito más ayuda para conseguir ese descanso. Pero hacer el esfuerzo para hacer ese cambio es casi demasiado para agregar a mi lista, así que me opongo a ello. Con más pastelitos, por supuesto. Obviamente, esa no es la solución, ni siquiera a corto plazo. Eventualmente, necesito ir más despacio y enfrentar mis propios problemas para convertirme en la madre que la mayoría de la gente cree que soy. Necesito aprender a respirar, relajarme y terminar los libros que empiezo a leer que tengo que guardar porque algo más pide mi atención. Necesito descubrir de nuevo las actividades que disfruté antes de que tuve la increíble responsabilidad que es criar a un niño con una discapacidad. Necesito cuidarme a mí misma. Hasta entonces, voy a seguir publicando esas fotos felices en línea, no porque quiera engañar a nadie, sino porque me traen alegría en los días en que no tengo tiempo para hacer nada más por mí misma. Soy un trabajo en progreso, como lo son todos los demás. Otros artículos en español: Lo Que Es el Amor Cuando Tienes Hijos Con Discapacidades Los Hijos Con Discapacidades No Hacen a Sus Padres ‘Especiales’ Cuidar a Mi Hijo Quien Tiene una Discapacidad Sí Es Trabajo de Tiempo Completo Sigue nuestra página en español para estar al corriente con todo nuestro contenido en español.

Supporting Kids With Down Syndrome in Middle School

Dear Alex, Well, it’s happened again. I blinked and you graduated from another level of your education, closing your chapter on middle school. It seems like just yesterday I wrote to you about your elementary school experience, but now I’m reflecting back on the three years you spent at middle school. While you were the student, your dad and I did our fair share of learning and work to help us all get through it. You had terrific teachers and supporters, but the road was still bumpy as we continued to show our community that inclusive education is your right, even when that meant blazing a new trail through the sometimes treacherous path of middle school. But as always, you were a total rock star. Middle school tends to get a bad rap, but you handled it well and your love of school continued to grow. Eighth grade was by far your best year and it may be difficult to top as you move on to high school. Even though I was with you every step of the way (maybe more like skipping a bit ahead to remove any unforeseen barriers), I am still in awe of everything you accomplished. You were a Student Council representative, a member of the basketball team (with eight points on the season!), a sprinter on the track and field team, and an award-winning featured reporter for Eagle News, the student-led daily news broadcast. You had an amazing trip to Washington, D.C. with your peers, and you continued to perform in the Ensemble Company at dance and volunteer at church. With every game you played in, lunch report you giggled through, and race you ran, you were teaching those in our community that you are able, and you are just another teenage kid who wants to be involved and included. We made it look easy, Alex, but the truth is that advocacy is difficult work. You are learning to advocate for yourself, and I honestly can’t wait to have you join your dad and I at the table as we continue to press on for what we believe is the best vision for your future. I know your time in high school will present more challenges and more opportunities for us to learn how to better advocate for you (and for your peers with Down syndrome), and I promise to not give up. I’ll probably want to, but I’ll get over it and fight on. I always laugh a bit to myself when someone tells me that you’re stubborn because of your Down syndrome; clearly, they don’t realize how stubborn your old mom is, too! Until you step through the doors of the high school in a few short weeks, let’s just sit back and marvel at your time in middle school. I hope you’re proud of yourself, Al, but truthfully, no one is prouder of you than your family. Congratulations, Mr. Honor Roll Student and All-Around Rock Star Middle Schooler. Hold on tight; high school graduation will be here before we know it! Love, Mom

Community Voices

Is there one song that is meaningful to you in a time of stress or worry #CheckInWithMe

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