In sports, in the classroom, or in the neighborhood, your kids will rub shoulders with children who have special needs. And it is your job as parents to help them understand and appreciate those children as individuals.
Over a year ago, I posted a story about Addie, a then 7-year-old with Downs Syndrome. Her mother wrote about a day in Addie’s life–a story that touched me and many who read it. I’d like to share it with you again. She wrote…
Addie wins at the Down Syndrome Special Olympics...a BIG DEAL!
Yesterday was the last day of first grade for Addie, my oldest daughter. Addie is fully mainstreamed in a 1st grade classroom and has an aide to assist her in the classroom, and at recess and lunch.
At Wolf Canyon Elementary the students line up every morning to get a “character talk” from the principle, say the pledge, and sing. Since it was the last day I stood with Addie and her class until they were escorted by the teachers.
The sun was out, but it was a little breezy and Addison, who was wearing a sundress, began to shiver. She talked with her friends and played hand clapping games,interjecting occasionally that she was cold. One of the girls in her class, noting that Addie was cold, took her sweastshirt off her back and with a smile on her face said, “here Addie, don’t be cold.” They hugged and continued with their games.
The teachers walked the kids to their classrooms. As Addie hung up her backpack, a third grader passed by and said to his friend, “Hey dude, there’s Addie!” The other boy shouted, “Hey Addie! HI.” She turned, smiled and in her low raspy voice, “hi guys.”
Later, when I picked her up after school, there was much last-day-of-school excitement. One of the moms from Addie’s class invited Addie and I to go out for frozen yogurt. When I said “yes” a girl from her class said, “Yay! Addie’s going.”
So what? you may be thinking. What’s the big deal about a sweatshirt, Hi from a 3rd grader, and frozen yogurt?
The big deal is acceptance and inclusion. We desire these for our kids. Heck, we desire them for ourselves as adults. My other 3 children have experienced acceptance and inclusion, but I wondered if Addie would. When I was a kid, kids who were different were not treated equally. They were separate, singled out, misunderstood, and left out. Not always because of cruelty, sometimes just because of ignorance and lack of education.
The big deal is that at Addie’s elementary school there is a principle willing to take a chance on a child who is delayed developmentally. Addie will not help raise their average test scores. She will cost them money for speech therapists, occupational therapists, and aides. But the principal knows that including her in a typical classroom will make a difference in her education, her behaviors and her life. And it not only benefits Addie, but her class and the entire school.
A school is changed when children of all abilities are part of the classroom, the playground, and the cafeteria. It teaches the valuable lesson that though we are unique we can share this life together, growing, learning and loving each other.
The big deal is a 1st grade teacher who sacrifices her time to modify curriculum, learn about special needs, and attend extra meetings just to make a difference in the life of one child. Because of her, my child believes she can do anything. She’s learning to read, write, add, subtract, and communicate clearly with others. Not only does she have friends, she believes she is the most popular girl on campus and reminds me that, “they are ALL my friends mom. They love me.”
The big deal is a community of families that have embraced Addie and educated their children on how Addie is different and the same from them. And as a result, most of her peers don’t think anything of her differences. In their words, “that’s just Addie.”
I believe that Addie has made a difference in the life of these students. They have a softer heart and a quicker response to help others in need and a love for someone who may not be just like them.
Perhaps one of her classmates said it best when she told her mom, “I am really surprised I’m friends with Addie. I would never thought I would have a friend like her.”
The mom responded, “Why honey. What makes you say that?”
Her reply, “because Mom, I have brown hair and Addie’s is blonde.”
Jennifer Jones lives in Southern California with her husband and four children.
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