On Henry's First "First Day"

I am about to send my two year old to pre-school. Just like so many other parents who want to give their toddlers a little head start. But our experience has been a little different from most.

When I tried to sign my child up for the two year old program where his brother went to school, they told me no. Instead, they handed me a brochure for a special needs playgroup.

They didn't know my son. They didn't know his name. They just knew he had Down syndrome, and decided he wasn't a good fit for their school. I was given a few excuses. Things like "We don't have the resources" and "We don't have a special education teacher here."

As a parent of a child with Down syndrome, you know there will be battles. There will be times when the world decides your child is not worthy of what others are. They will take one look at your child and without knowing a thing about them, they will decide that your child does not belong.

I can't tell you how heartbreaking that is.

I cried endlessly over the school's decision to not include my son. I was sad, and then I was mad. However, it is their right. They don't HAVE to include Henry. They have every right to decide he is not worthy, and that's what hurt the most.

But I am grateful for one thing -- that this experience came so early in Henry's journey. He was only a year old when I realized that the world is sometimes going to be like this. I didn't have to wait very long to begin advocating for him. He was only a year before I had my first phone call with a self-advocate at the National Down Syndrome Society who recommended I continue looking, and that someone would include him.

Well, I did find another school that will include him. The teacher has said things like "I am looking forward to learning from him, and to watch him learn within his range of capabilities" and "I just plan on treating him like any other child in my class."

It is so heartwarming to hear that from his teacher. What more can I ask for than to have my son treated like any other child? That's how we treat him at home. Isn't that what he deserves? Doesn't he deserve the same opportunities as any other child? A tiny extra chromosome makes him so infinitely different from you and I that he doesn't deserve the opportunity to go to school like "typical" two year olds?

Henry is like any other two year old. He loves to talk about dogs (or "dops", as he calls them) and likes to meow like a cat. Every morning, he gets me the dog's leash and pours the food into her bowl. He likes to hand me books to read to him, even though we both know he can't sit through a whole story. He throws his cup at dinner. He carries around random objects, like Tupperware tops. He shakes his finger "no" at me. He puts on concerts with his brother. He colors, he sings, he loves and he is loved in return. I know the gap between he and his peers will grow with time. But for now, I am enjoying the prospect of my son being treated no differently than any other toddler.

It is emotional as it is to send your baby off to pre-school at two. I now send him off with the battle of finding an inclusive school who sees Henry's extraordinary value behind me, and the hope of friendships, art projects, and a year of love and learning ahead of me.

Henry is worthy of an education alongside "typical" two year olds.
He is capable of joining them, learning, and teaching.
He is an asset to a classroom.
He is more alike the children in that classroom than he is different from them, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to show that.

So happy first first-day Henry. This is just the first of many hopeful and fearful first days as a Down syndrome mom. Just know that you have an army of people who love you and believe in you behind you.


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