Today – 3.21 for three copies of the 21st chromosome – is World Down Syndrome Awareness Day. I love this day. Our family likes to wear mismatched socks to celebrate the differences that color our world. Friends and family send pictures of their crazy socks. My Facebook feed fills with celebrations and photos of kids and adults with that something extra. It is beautiful.
Jon and I kicked off the day by attending Lina’s kindergarten transition meeting at the school she’ll be attending in August. This was the first time we met the new team that will be taking over her therapies and support services as she leaves early childhood preschool and begins her elementary experience at our school of zone. It felt like a pretty big deal, which is why you could have found me at our local FedEx at 9:30 last night, having a one-page flyer printed.
If you’ve followed along these past three years, you know that Lina’s preschool experience has been phenomenal. She has attended four half-days a week in an early childhood blended classroom of peer models and students with special education needs. There are four adults in the room of about 12 students: either the occupational or speech therapist (each two days a week), a special education teacher and two aides. The kids receive a tremendous amount of individualized attention and support.
We are very lucky to live in a district that believes in inclusive education for students with disabilities. In fact, the elementary schools in our county don’t have self-contained special education classrooms. Lina will be pulled out for brief periods for special ed instruction in reading and math and small group speech therapy but will do the vast majority of her learning in a general education classroom. She will receive support from a paraprofessional who stays with the class full-time.
All of this is awesome. It’s why we moved to this district. It’s also overwhelming. This is a whole new world for our girl. The change from four half-days to five full days is big enough. But now, Lina will also be one kid in a class of at least 20, needing to keep up with generalized instruction, transitions to other parts of the school for specials (like art, music and P.E.), navigating the lunch room, the bigger playground… It’s a lot, and this mama’s heart contracts every time I think about it.
But, this is what we’ve been working towards for the past three years. This is the process of parenting, that gradual letting go, of sending our kids out into an ever broadening world. Lina’s current preschool educational team has spent long hours updating her evaluations, preparing her IEP (which prescribes her special ed goals and supports), communicating with the new team and ensuring the right supports will be in place. Jon and I have spent three different meetings over the past two weeks going over those goals, providing feedback, suggesting changes, developing a behavioral plan, helping the new team get to know our girl and her strengths and challenges. Months before she begins kindergarten, an entire village is pouring effort into providing everything Lina needs to learn. I get weepy when I think about the dedication of these teachers and staff, who are paid a fraction of what they deserve. Together, we and these remarkable teams are laying the foundation for Lina’s future. The dreams we have for her of college, meaningful employment, independent living: they start here.
So, on this 3.21, I am grateful, and yes, a little heartsore. My baby is growing up, but I know that’s the job. Sending her into the world is never going to not be scary, but I am moved yet again by the size and heart of our village. From friends and family who put on their crazy socks (literally and metaphorically) to the teachers and therapists who work day after day to equip her for success, Lina has an army at her back. That may be the greatest gift of all in this journey.