Thursday, September 20, 2012

Letter to parents: My kid has Down syndrome

Last year, Nichole was in a special education classroom. She did okay, but the teachers agreed that was not the best environment for Nichole. This year, Nichole is in a typical preschool classroom. Her class is co-taught by a regular teacher and a special ed teacher. I love both of them, they are fantastic. The special ed teacher goes above and beyond and takes the time to run through Nichole's day with me when I pick her up. We are so lucky to have her. The aides in her classroom are incredible, and the other teacher happens to be a teacher Nina had last year, so we already knew her. They do great with Nichole, there is no doubt about it.

That is the "teacher" side of school. However, there are friends, and there are the friend's parents! Following the example of many in the Down syndrome community, I decided to send a letter "introducing" them to Nichole. I want them to "see" more of her, besides lining up in the hall, or her total disappointment that it is me that picks her up and not her daddy. Yes, she is a daddy's girl through and through. Want to know what she can say with clear speech? "No, no mommy. I want daddy." Great!

Anyway, I thought I would share with you the letter we sent to her friend's families:

Yes, I included this picture, just without the text :)
Dear preschool parents,


I would like to introduce you to my daughter, Nichole. I know…who sends a letter introducing their child, right? Nonetheless, I want to share with you a little bit about her. After two and a half weeks in school,  I am sure you have seen Nichole lining up in the morning with her daddy, or maybe you have noticed her at the end of the day, when she turns her face away from me, hands out, and clearly says, “No, no mommy. I want daddy.” And then the drama queen kicks in full swing!

Nichole has Down syndrome, and while that is a part of who she is, it is not what defines her. Nichole is a little girl first, and Down syndrome is part of her genetic makeup, just like her green eyes and dark hair.

Nichole is almost 5 years old. She loves princesses, Barbies, Curious George, and especially Strawberry Shortcake. She loves to play pretend and dress-up. She is also a little performer, she likes to put on shows for mom and dad, and she likes to make people laugh. Sometimes, when other people are sad, she gives hugs and pats their backs to make them feel better. She adores her two big sisters (they are first grade ). Yet I am sure you know her favorite person in the world is her daddy! Nichole’s favorite snacks are Doritos, goldfish crackers, and M&Ms. She is a rascal, a dancer, a rascal, a trampoline jumper, and a rascal. Sounds like a pretty typical little girl, don’t you think?

 While Nichole has some trouble with her words – and she uses sign language – Nichole is more alike other 4-year-old little girls than she is different. Nichole is also very shy outside her family, so I think it will take her a while to warm up to her teachers and your child. She will eventually open up and try to boss them around. Did I mention she is a rascal?

Although it was hard to deal with Nichole’s diagnosis at the beginning, there is nothing about her that our family would change. She has brought more joy to our lives than we ever imagined. She is absolutely perfect!

If your child asks about what is “different” about Nichole, a simple explanation is that Nichole has Down syndrome, which means that sometimes things take her a little bit longer, like talking, walking, counting. You can also explain to your kids that we are ALL different. We all have different hair color, eye color, skin color, some of us are short, and some of us are tall. And these differences are what make us all special and unique. There is only one you!

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to pull me to the side or contact me, ellen@ellenstumbo.com. I always love to talk to other parents about Down syndrome and other special needs. Before Nichole was born, I knew little about what it was like to raise a child with special needs, and I wish someone had been available for me to ask questions. I am very open, and love to share about our experience. We are living and loving life with Down syndrome!

In the back of the page, I included some quick facts about Down syndrome.

The letter is going with the kids in their backpacks today! Exciting!
 

11 comments:

  1. Wow! I think it's wonderful the teachers suggested her being in a typical class. She is beautiful and I'm sure her classmates are gonna love having her in their class. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Debbie, it makes a huge difference when teachers see the same potential you see in your child!

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  2. I wish more people did what you do. It's really awkward when you wonder about a child in your child's class, but feel it would be totally blunt and inappropriate to ask..... The letter is great, and I'm happy to hear that you are so pleased with Nichole's class and teachers!

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    1. Milena, I think you have it exactly right! I cannot expect other parents to understand things the way I do, and the only way I can reach out is inviting them in and letting them know it is okay to ask!

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  3. Ellen that is a beautiful letter. It makes me sad that we have to explain our children and I dread the day I have to do the same. They are more alike then different and they are so unbelievably wonderful. Just like all the kiddos in their class.

    Way to step up for your daughter and open the communication path with the parents! You are a good Mama! Katie

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    1. Yes Katie, they are more alike than different. But I know, before I began this journey I didn't think so. I think that is why I am compelled to do this, because I want to reach out and invite people in. I want them to see my kid through my eyes a little, and I have to be intentional if I want this to take place.

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  4. Oh I just love your letter. This is such a great idea. Ince our daughter is adopted many of her differences are more noticeable. We are hoping to find a good fit when the time comes. What a great idea!

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    1. Anna, I will be doing this every year for my girls! Nina's will go out when I come to her class to read a book about CP and talk about her :)

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  5. What a fabulous idea. I wish I had thought of that when my son started school. I bet the other parents appreciated that as well, having some words to have a meaningful discussion about your daughter. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I am going to Nina's class sometimes this week or next and reading a book on CP to her class. Then I will send a similar letter with her classmates. It is not too late! ;)

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  6. I love this letter! Claire starts preschool in January and I have been making notes about what I want to include in hers. I love your paragraph about how we are all different.

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