The transition to grade school is a big step for parents and kids no matter their ability. But when a child with special needs starts Kindergarten, there is a whole different set of concerns and emotions that parents go through.
Jill Rose works for the Center for Family Involvement and lives in the Charlottesville, Virginia area. She and her husband Tim had to fight for their daughter Sophia to be included in the general education kindergarten classroom.
They won that battle and the benefits have been tremendous. Jill says Sophia is learning so much from her typically developing peers calling them “amazing role models.”
Their family is starting the IEP process for next year. So they reached out to parents of Sophia’s classmates to see how they feel about having a girl with Down syndrome in their class. Turns out, Sophia is just as important to her classmates as they are to her.
“Sophia is so cute. I saw her while volunteering art class. My child feels the same way about her and likes her. We don’t have any concerns or worries at all.”
“My son Max says ‘Sophia is very nice. Sometimes I help the teacher with what she’s is saying because I understand her better.’ While a seemingly benign quote, I think it is a good example of exactly why Max and Sophia should be educated in shared environments … the benefits extend to everyone. The benefits of inclusive education for Max extend well beyond his academic achievements. Ultimately he’ll develop more meaningful friendships, a great acceptance and appreciation for diverse types of differences, and a genuine respect for all persons.”
“We are so grateful that Gideon is in Sophia’s class. When we were given the opportunity to spend time with people who are different than we are, we are given an incredible opportunity to learn from them, and to expand our understanding of everyone’s diversity. I have seen many of the children interact with Sophia, and I love how gentle and caring they become with her. I am sure there is plenty that I don’t see as well, but I really appreciate that her presence in class brings out some of the best in these kids. School is about so much more than just learning letters and facts. The social lessons we learn, especially at this tender age, mold us for the rest of our lives. We are so happy that Sophia is part of Gideon’s small world.”
“My wife and I have never had a problem with Sophia being in the classroom. In fact, when I was in elementary school I had a classmate with special needs, so I just through it was standard practice for schools. Ethan, my son, is classmates with Sophia. The teacher says they have somewhat of a sibling relationship in which he watches over her and encourages her while she works. I think it’s been neat for Ethan to be in a class with a child who has different abilities. It not only helps him understand diversity, it also helps him empathize with others so he can assist them in overcoming difficulties they might have.”
“We didn’t have any reservations and we were excited for Ellie to meet new children with all different backgrounds in Kindergarten. Ellie has really taken to Sophia. She loves her dearly and comes home with stories about Sophia. My biggest surprise was the day Sophia’s mom talked to the children about Down syndrome and how much she discussed this at home. This really had an impact on my daughter, that Sophia’s life was different than her own. And she was really compassionate about Sophia and her challenges. Ellie has defended Sophia when she was being picked on. I know she cares about her greatly. I hope their friendship continues through elementary school and beyond. We are blessed by Sophia and happy to have lots of different children from different backgrounds growing and learning together. That is the way the world works, and it should replicate that in our school system.”