We started this new adventure almost two years ago. I was excited for him to start attending a mainstream classroom. Being born with Down syndrome should never limit our kids’ chances to be part of the world and experience typical stuff, like attending a typical classroom and interacting with typical kids. Those millions of dollars invested in the creation of special education classrooms should instead be invested in adaptations to embrace diversity as a natural way of being. But that’s another topic.
During these last two years, I have encountered different situations that left me with conflicted feelings. Are you doing this for him or for yourself? Is he really benefitting from a regular classroom, or should he be protected from those little monsters that look like minions who are laughing at him, pointing or avoiding him. Do they really exist?
What about those parents who look at him as a less capable person and teach their kids to feel sorry for him, or those who are worried about him causing delays to the classroom because of his special needs? Are they real, or are my own fears making up these stories that don’t really exist?
Sometimes I’m happy to wake up to a different reality, where my son is accepted, loved and cheered up. Sometimes I can’t deny that I wake up to a nightmare reality, where I have to discuss with regular people some concepts that I consider extremely obvious but that they seem to have missed. Some people feel that they have all the answers, but they don’t even have the real experience of raising a child with special needs.
So here are I am, most of the time working hard to educate others about my kids’ abilities. And sometimes I feel that my efforts are misunderstood. I don’t want to convince people of anything. But sometimes I would like to open their minds to let some fresh air pass through.
Sigh. Please don’t tell me that a child is not successful at an Individualized Plan of Education because he’s not making much academic progress, because I’m going to tell you: “I’m sorry; I don’t care what his school grades are”. And it’s not because I’m denying reality — it’s quite the contrary. It’s because I am realistic; I know that my children are not geniuses. Of course they have intellectual disabilities, and my desire to include them in a mainstream classroom is not to fix them or to prove anything to anyone. All I want is to ensure their right to be part of the world. That’s it.
They are still learning to talk, read and write at the ages of 10 and 7. I don’t want anyone to believe that they have special powers or are more advanced than other kids of their age. I don’t have that goal of trying to please others, and neither do they. I don’t expect them to beat anyone in math or to get a 100% on the FCAT. I don’t need that in order to be proud of them. I love them just the way they are, and I’m grateful to them for loving me just as I am, too.
Most children go to school to ascend to the honor roll, to learn to compete, to build their futures based on a rewarding education. I feel happy and proud for them. I was actually one of those kids too, when I was that age. But today, that’s not my case nor is it my kids’.
School grades are not important to me, and I don’t let them define who they are. I rarely look at their grades, but on days like today, when I look at the “U’s” of unsatisfactory progress, I don’t feel sad or frustrated. Instead I feel satisfied and proud of every small thing they’ve achieved behind the scenes. I see them happy, laughing, growing up; and I know those achievements are not delivered to parents like me in report cards.