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.
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!