Summer is coming to an end which can only mean one thing for this stay-at-home mother of three…school!
I love summer, I love practically everything about it, but as we enter the month of August my sweet, lovely and extremely needy little munchkins get restless and this mama begins to feel a tiny bit claustrophobic. By the time our alarm clocks buzz on the first day of school, everyone under our roof is ready to go their separate ways, and conquer the world.
My sweet Macyn will be starting second grade. I know I’m biased but man oh man is her school lucky to have her. She is funny and kind and honestly she’s the bravest girl I know. On the first day of school I’m always so tempted to walk around holding a sign saying: “You’re so lucky to have Macyn.” Or better yet, pass out little pins for all the teachers, administrators and students to wear saying: “We’re so lucky to have Macyn.” But don’t worry, while I am a tad bit nuts when it comes to shouting the worth of my children, I know where to draw the line and no signs or pins will make their way to school on that first day back.
But my need to shout my daughter’s worth is justified. You see, she has Down syndrome. Which, honestly, is awesome! While her Down syndrome does not define her, it is near the top of the list of thing about her I love the most.
Her Down syndrome has given her a softer and more accepting spirit. She views the world and all that is in it with grace tinted glasses. Her ability to love fiercely and forgive fully is something I’m am still attempting to be good at and falling short of everyday.
And she’s oh so brave…Because she has to be.
You see, there is very little room for people with Down syndrome in our schools and society as a whole. We’ve discovered when Macyn steps out our door, she is stepping into an environment not created for her and her needs. All day long, she’s crossing paths with people, adults and peers, who don’t know how to embrace her, just the way she is. But she doesn’t let it get to her. She is bravely and boldly bending and flexing and squeezing her way into a world that has refused to bend and flex and squeeze in the ways necessary for her and her unique ways of living and learning.
She bravely lives amongst the systemic idea that people with different abilities are less worthy than the rest of us. And this idea has been pounded into the very fabric of humanity. Those of us in the West think we may have risen above, or moved forward with programs and services such as IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) or ADA (American with Disabilities Act). And while yes, there has been movement and motion we have to recognize and admit we are moving from a place where we have been taught that if a person is differently abled then they are less valuable. And the stain of this reality cannot be easily scrubbed away.
People with different abilities should be valued and honored not in spite of their differences, but because of them.
“What can we do though?” you might be wondering. I have some ideas:
1.) Don’t be “disability” blind: Just like “color blindness” is hurting racial reconciliation, ignoring a person’s disability does not add to their worth. A different ability does not define a person, but it is a part of that person and it’s not going away (and in our case with Down syndrome, nor do we want it to go away.) Rather than ignore the differences in the people around you or at your child’s school, learn about them. Ask questions (politely please) and talk to your kids about it. If your child asks you about or mentions the kid in his/her class who has a different ability, don’t tell them to ignore it. Teach them how to embrace it. Ask questions such as, “how do you feel when Macyn talks to you and you don’t understand what she’s saying?” Role play appropriate ways to respond to a possible uncomfortable situation. Please know that parents of children with different abilities are spending hours upon hours teaching our kids how to fit in and be socially acceptable. But this goes both ways and not all of the pressure of our kids fitting in at school should fall on our shoulders.
2.) Love the underdog: and your kids will do the same. Teach your kids to have eyes that seek out the “different” and lonely students and then teach them how to be inclusive. Brainstorm activities that can be fun for everyone, and that people with different abilities can participate in.
3.) Speak up with us: there are so few of us who have children with different abilities and so our voice, no matter how loud we yell, is still a weak whisper. Are all the kids with different abilities in separate classes at your child’s school? Talk to the teachers, administration and super intendent insisting that your child have differently abled students in his/her class room. Here is a link to a simple PDF you can print and sign and send to these important people.
4.) Build relationships: this my friends, is key. This first week of school, step out of your comfort zone, seek out the child with a different ability, and invite them over for a playdate. (You don’t have a ramp for their wheelchair? Go to the park, create fun play in the front yard, get creative!). Relationships are the key to positive change for any minority group.
I’m so excited about everything Macyn’s is going to learn this year from her peers and her teachers. More than that, I’m excited about everything her peers and teachers will learn from her. Because the we all have something to offer each other, every single one of us. And we all have something to learn.