Thursday, September 6, 2012

Friends Don't Count Chromosomes: Sending Joey to an Inclusive Preschool

I have read that there are two gifts every parent should give their children.  One is roots and the other is wings.  Roots is for a solid home and symbolizes the foundation of the child's life.  Wings are the opportunity to explore the world and utilize the lessons learned at home. I think all parents do their best to provide the deepest and most meaningful roots possible.  I have found that for me, the wings are the hard part. Once you have a child with some health issues and additional needs, the wings become even harder to expand.  I had a hard time sending Tommy to preschool last year because he had always been at home, but this time, I had to overcome the fact that Joey doesn't walk or talk.  I had to overcome my personal fears of rejection and comparisons and prejudices. 

At age three (a year from now), Joey will be eligible for the Early Learning Program in Ohio. In our city, that program is five days a week from 8:30 - 11:00 am.  In each classroom there are some children with varying developmental levels as well as typically developing "peer models".

We realized that it would be incredibly difficult for Joey to go from no preschool to five days a week and started to search for a 2's program that he could attend this year to prepare for next year. Thus started our search for a pre-preschool for Joey. 

We approached one school and set up a meeting with the director.  The day before the meeting, she cancelled.  I tried to reschedule.  She cancelled again.  It took three cancellations for me to finally get the message that Joey attending that preschool was not something that particular director was interested in pursuing.  However, at least that director initially agreed to meet with me.  Two other schools I called just said straight out that it was not a possibility. 

As you may know, and I just needed reminded of, when God closes one door (or 3), he opens another one.

I reached out to the director of All About Kids Preschool and asked her about their 2's program. She immediately said that they would love to have Joey.  I mean literally-- without reservation and without hesitation, she said they wanted him in their school.  I was floored.  The wheels were in motion. Initially I decided I would keep Tommy at the school he went to because he really loved it and the teachers and all the people there. About two weeks ago the three of us dropped of Joey's tuition and registration checks.  Tommy asked me where we were going.  I said, "This is going to be Joey's school this year."  He looked me dead in the eye and said, "I want to go to school with Joey, Mom." 

More wheels in motion.  I was so hesitant to change Tommy to the new school, but he kept talking about it and once we learned that there was room in the 4's class, I signed him up. For the next week all he could talk about was that he was going to go to Joey's school. 

We made a decision as a family to try it out. We both have fears about the boys being at the same school-- more when they are older.  Tom wants Tommy to have his own identity and not feel like he has to always be looking after Joey.  I, on the other hand, completely want Tommy to always have Joey's back.  But I honestly see his point and I don't know what the future will hold for their schooling together or individually.  All I know is that for this one moment in time, my heart is overflowing with happiness that these brothers are together.

Once we mentioned this preschool opportunity for Joey to our Help Me Joe (aka- Help Me Grow) to our early intervention coordinator, she immediately started working on how to make this happen and make it happen well.  As part of the Community Partnership for Inclusion, Jennifer M., has gone out to the preschool, met with the director, helped supply seats and tools to help adapt some of the basics in the room for Joey to use. Her help has made this day a possibility.  I told her and the director, Julie, that this is our first opportunity for true inclusion.  Joey is in a "typical" preschool with all typical classmates.  

Part of what I did to try and help prepare Joey's teachers for him being a part of the classroom was to write an "All About Me" book.  I found this wonderful idea on this site called "Let's Talk - Down Syndrome" and I wrote a short 7-page (mostly pictures!) "book" about Joey that I had printed and bound at Kinko's.  If you would like to see an example, please email me and I will send you a copy of ours that you can use as a template.  Or you can visit, here for a great example from the above website.  My goal was to try and provide a positive background with plenty of photos to help provide a frame of reference and context for having Joey as a student.

Today she stayed the entire morning to work with Joey and help him figure out the room and make small adjustments for him as needed. 

School starts at 9:00 am and Tom and I tore ourselves away at 9:30 so the morning could progress without the helicopter parents lingering in the room.  Thankfully, Jennifer texted me about an hour later with a picture showing Joey hard at play to ease my worried mind.  Tonight she sent me an entire power point of photos from Joey's first day.  They are incredible to see.  Joey having a snack with his class.  Joey and the kids playing on toys. 

By the time I returned, Joey had snacks with his new friends, had washed his hands, played with the toys and participated in the entire morning. Will our school experiences always be sunshine and unicorns and lollipops? Nope.  But today they were and for that I am so grateful and so inspired by what inclusion means and what it can be when people are willing to put in a little extra time and effort.  I saw on one of our favorite blogs, The Chronicles of Ellie Bellie Bear, that friends don't count chromosomes...after what we saw today, we know it is true.

Have you had positive or negative experiences with schooling and inclusion?

Any advice you would like to share with other parents?

Happy 2012 School Year!


  1. Oh my heavens! That last photo....he looks so grown up! I've been wondering recently, if we should put Hailey in a 2 yr program next year.

    1. I would at least consider it! He LOVES other kids and he is so upset on M/W/F when we drop off his brother and he doesn't get to stay. :-) I am so hopeful that being around other children will help with his speech and motor skills. Hailey is so beautiful, by the way!!!

  2. Thanks for linking up the Bear! I so love this post about spreading the wings! I am frustrated that those other schools were so scared of the unknown that they didn't even consider Joey. Grrr. It is their loss and the All About Kids Preschool is going to LOVE Joey. If Joey is anything like Ellie, he will love love love preschool and you will see his development sky rocket. There is just something about being around other kids and a caregiver that is not mommy. We found a preschool that offered summer classes near us and Ellie was accepted no questions asked. She loved it and I think it will help her when she starts school every single day in 1 week. GASP, did I say ONE week?!?!

    Great pics. I cannot believe how much both of your handsome boys have grown.

    1. I can't believe she is going EVERY day!!!!!! That is crazy-- hugs to you mama-- those two hours I was alone were so lonely! I didn't even know what to do with myself! I wish we lived closer and we could get coffee or go for a walk while the kids were at school!!! Can't wait to see more Ellie Bear photos-- she is so totally beautiful and you are such a wonderful mama! Hugs!!


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