Elijah started preschool today. We had a truly nightmare experience at the first school he was placed at, where I found myself constantly wondering if there was a hidden camera and I was being "Punked" somehow. So, Mama Bear roared to life and I got my baby bear a new school, with a better suited program. The school itself is a stark contrast to the school he was originally placed at. Here, the office staff is lovely, the Assistant Principal invited me into his office to discuss what would be best for Elijah, and the therapists who will be providing his services, actually called me to tell me when they will be seeing him!
However, today didn't feel great. The teacher that I met on the tour last year is gone, and along with her, the program I thought was so well suited for Elijah. The teacher who has taken her place is young and green, but full of energy and creativity. I'm not totally ready to write her off, but I am very disappointed in two things: 1) I don't agree with the program. It doesn't feel developmentally appropriate to me, and there is no time in the classroom to be working on his Imaginative play skills, which is something he is lacking and I know would improve with peer modeling. 2) She is already underestimating my child. Sigh.
I received a packet of information and most of it is about trying to get to know my child better. At the bottom of one of the sheets, it says, "Please tell me, in one million words or less, if there is anything else I should know about your child. Feel free to brag! Use the back (of this page) if you need to." So, I thought I'd take her up on it.
In well less than one million words, here's my version of "Dear Teacher":
My child is frequently under-estimated. Elijah doesn't yet have words to communicate what he knows, and because of this many people assume he does not understand. That is inaccurate- he knows much more than he lets onto at first. Today, after school, you asked if we had considered placing him in the Preschool Intense class environment (for moderate to severely disabled children). This shows me that already-on his very first day of school- you have underestimated his abilities.
My son, Elijah, has Down syndrome. I don't expect you to be an expert on every special need that exists in your classroom, but because of my son's diagnosis, I have become an expert on him. Let me tell you a little about what this means: Down syndrome is a mild to moderate cognitive delay brought on by the presence of an extra 21st chromosome in each of Elijah's cells. The extra genetic material causes a few other things that add challenges to his abilities- things like delayed speech and gross motor skills. Despite the extra challenges that Elijah faces, he is motivated to learn and explore, and he slowly, but surely, is conquering each of these hurdles. He needs some modifications for learning, but mostly, he just needs people who believe in him.
Elijah has a great sense of humor, seems intuitive to others' feelings, is affectionate, bright, and adores his older brother. He has an almost Superpower ability to make people fall madly in love with him. He also learns things a little more slowly, but this pace makes our family slow down and take a deep breath more often than we would have before. He's taught me not to ever take for granted what comes easily to me, and shown me that persistence and perseverance done with a smile, conquers almost all. I sometimes wonder if he will teach me more than I'll ever have the chance to teach him.
I look forward to partnering with you in Elijah's education. I realize that I can come across pretty tough at times, but I just want my son to be seen and accepted for who he is and not seen for just his diagnosis. I want him to have opportunities equal to other children his age, and I want him to learn the skills he needs to accomplish his future dreams. I want what every parent wants.
For now, I am his voice.