It is a tough time of the year here in Phoenix.   My car just read 121 degrees, the kids are starting to get bored of indoor activities and the swimming pool is almost too warm.   But July is also a very stress-free month when it comes to thinking about SCHOOL!     The new school year is still one month out and last year’s IEP meetings, conferences and good-bye’s are well behind us.
I have been fortunate to have amazing teachers every year who have had nothing but patience, encouragement and love for my son.  So as I say my “thank you’s” and “good-bye’s” at school, I already wonder if next years’ teacher will love him and understand him the way this years’ teacher did.   Will he have another great group of kids that encourage him, play ball at recess and don’t mind when he wants to wrestle while the teacher is talking?     He is a boy after all.   Christian has Down syndrome and he will be turning 10 this summer and starting fourth grade.
I am not sure if school gets easier for me, but that is my issue as his mom.  My son is a happy and social child at school who occasionally gets into some trouble, along with many of his typical peers.   He likes to sneak the girls’ crayons away, push the other boys while standing in line for lunch and occasionally he decides he is all done for the day and high tails it to the hall or the nurses office for a little break.     But the stress part of school is on me, not him.     He isn’t worried.   He isn’t wondering every day if he is going to have a good day.   He isn’t thinking about next year or the year after.   His main concerns are what athletic shirt he is wearing and how long before he can go to recess and play ball.   I encourage other parents to become their child’s advocate along with stepping back from time to time in order to cherish all of their accomplishments.
There are many options when it comes to educating our children.   Public schools, private, charter, on line and homeschooling.     Find what works for your child and your family.  Although I could list 20 or 30 suggestions off the top of my head, here are a few that have helped with our school journey.
Have faith and be positive – When you find good teachers, aides, staff members, therapists……   have faith that they are doing what they can to make sure your child succeeds.     Not everyone you encounter will be the perfect fit, but I have found the more comfortable they become with our family, the more comfortable they are with trying different approaches and coming up with great ideas to keep our son moving in the right direction.
For my son, less has been better – I do not show up at school with letters, lists, do’s, don’ts, warnings, likes, dislikes or any other overwhelming information.   Every child is unique but this has worked for us.     I need the teachers to expect of him what they do every other child.   Hands to your self, line up, cafeteria rules, work time.  I typically wait a week and then send an e-mail to see if they have questions or concerns.
Prepare when it makes sense – Before Kindergarten, I had Christian attend a Kindergarten boot camp that was held at the school he would be attending in the fall.  This helped tremendously and his first day of Kindergarten wasn’t overwhelming (for him or I).   He knew where he was, he saw familiar faces and had already learned some classroom rules.   If your child is going to a new school, see what kind of summer programs they may offer. As there were no aides and IEPS during the summer programs, I offered to stay close by it wasn’t working for the entire time or they had questions.
Find an advocate if you need one – I am lucky to have great friends and resources through DSNetwork of Arizona (dsnetworkaz.org), but every situation, child and school is different.   Do not hesitate to bring someone in who can help you communicate to the school and possibly help you form ideas of what your child’s IEP should look like.  A good advocate will collaborate with the school and your family to ensure your child’s educational needs are being met.   Jill Pearns is a great example of an advocate who understands both the families and schools she works with.   jillpearns@cox.net
In second grade, Christian came home with a notebook of letters.   He had been star student for the week and the assignment for his classmates was to write a letter to Christian and tell him why he was special.   I read every one of them at least three times.   His friends said he was sweet, courageous, fast, adorable, nice, helpful, ultra strong, funny and one said “a ball of sunshine”.     They knew him so well.   They had drawn pictures of Spiderman and rocket ships along with soccer balls and Minecraft characters.   Then a few of these children wrote that he was the best friend they ever had!     This was one of the many moments I knew Christian was in the right place. I photocopied the letters, laminated each one and made a special book of memories.     I love to show it to other parents with both special needs children and typical children.   It is such a good reminder that all of our kids are special!     They have compassion, love and sincerity that should be appreciated and cherished.   This notebook is a great reminder that my son is fine, school is good and I need to not worry so much.
 
Karen is the mom of two children here in Arizona.   Her youngest was born with Down syndrome.     She served as a Director and Board Member for DSNetwork for 4 years and now sits on the Advisory Board.    Join her in supporting this great work by visiting dsnetworkaz.org.
 
 
 
 

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