At the beginning of the school year, I had a lot of anxiety over Payton's relationship with the other kids in her class. The same old worries... would they like her, would they play with her, would they consider her a friend, would they be helpful to her... or would they shy away from her because they see her as different than them.
I went back and forth, trying to decide whether or not to send a letter home to the other parents in her kindergarten class. I bounced the idea off of her teacher, bounced it off of my mommy friends... those with kids that have special needs and those that don't. The consensus was... it's a good idea.
So... Kyle and I drafted a letter. It was hard... mostly because we didn't want to come across as crazy overbearing parents... and we wanted everyone to know that we are an open book. That we understand that most people don't really get what having Down syndrome means for Payton... and without being told, that they don't really know that our expectations of Payton are the same as that of her big brother.
As we settle into this school year, we would like to take the opportunity to give you a special introduction to our daughter … Payton … who is in Mrs. xxxxxxxxx kindergarten class.
Payton is a very independent, active little girl. She enjoys a wide variety of activities … playing house, reading and dancing … but mostly she just loves anything that involves being with her friends. She is a sports fanatic … thanks to her big brother … and she just completed tball season through the Greater xxxxxxxx Baseball League. She also is in Daisies and will be cheerleading for basketball this winter through Upward.
Besides being a very “typical” kindergartener, Payton also happens to have Down syndrome. Your child might come home wanting to know more about her and why she is a little different. Based on our past experiences, most questions from children this age are related to Payton’s speech and her inability to communicate effectively.
Payton has Childhood Apraxia of Speech. While we are able to communicate with her well, it can sometimes be hard for others to understand her. She can talk, but Apraxia (a speech disorder) makes it hard for her to form certain consonant/vowel combinations. Sometimes she drops beginning sounds, sometimes ending sounds. Sometimes none at all. For example, she says “No” quite well. :) Or … “Max” will sound like “Ax” … “Milk” she cannot say at all (that l/k combination is very hard) and so she signs it (envision using your hand to milk a cow by squeezing). Payton works very hard in speech therapy several hours per week to conquer her speech delay. She has a long way to go, but she has come so far and we are so proud of her!
Like most children, Payton has an insatiable curiosity and strongly desires to be independent … did we mention that? :) She is primarily a visual learner and will imitate what she sees others doing. We encourage you to share what you feel is appropriate about Payton with your children so that they can understand how she is different, but more importantly how she is the same as they are. Encourage them to support her without babying her, and to talk to her like they would anyone else, perhaps giving her a bit more time to respond and a little more explanation if she does not understand. They can also remind her to stay with them if they see her heading away from the group, and to make sure she is keeping her hands to herself.
Research has shown that children with Down syndrome benefit from placement in a regular education class, receiving their education alongside typically developing peers of their own age. Regular opportunities to learn and play alongside typically developing peers gives children with Down syndrome the role models they need to acquire new skills, encourage age-appropriate behavior, and develop independence and friendships.
Inclusive education benefits not only our child, but studies have shown that inclusion has a great benefit to the other children in the class. Inclusion facilitates greater understanding, tolerance, as well as learning to be supportive of one another. Children also learn to value diversity and to appreciate that everyone has something beneficial to bring to the life of the school and the community.
We are grateful for your support and for the support that Payton will have in Mrs. xxxxxxxxx class. She will have a team of people that will help support her learning needs and facilitate the inclusion support. We are also grateful for the opportunity to be in a learning community together and look forward to meeting you (if we haven’t already) and working together for a great year at xxxxxxx.
If you have any questions about Payton or Down syndrome, please feel free to contact us at (insert email here) or (insert phone number here). We are very open about our experience and in talking about what it means to have Down syndrome … no question is a silly question and we would rather share with you, than have you wonder. :)
Kyle and Bethany Balsis
ps … We have put together a Q&A on the reverse side to help you field some questions that your child might have, or to help you in talking with your child about Payton. We hope this is helpful to you. :)
What is Down syndrome?
Children born with Down syndrome have one extra chromosome in some or all of their cells. The chromosomes contain directions that tell your body how to grow. When a child has an extra chromosome it mixes up her body’s directions a little. That is why they may look a little different and have to try harder to learn.
Will Payton always have Down syndrome?
Yes, it is something she will never outgrow.
Will Payton be able to do things like me?
Yes, she will be able to do everything like you do, it may just take her a little longer to learn than most kids. She will learn to talk more clearly too, it’s just that learning to talk is often very hard, but just like anything, with a lot of hard work and practice she will get better over time. Payton also can do things you might not be able to do yet, like use sign language.
Is Payton sad that she has Down syndrome?
No, right now Payton is happy to be a growing little girl. She feels successful in her life; she loves to learn new things, just like you and me. You’re fortunate to be growing up in a world where people understand that everyone is unique, but that we all enjoy and want the same things, like having loving families and friends, going to school, and being accepted for who we are.
We received great feedback after the letter was sent. I think some of the parents (maybe all, I have no idea) appreciate our transparency. And well... we appreciate them more than they know... and we appreciate them having that conversation with their child.
Kids don't know what they don't know... and we are so thankful for the amazing kids that Payton has in her class this year. It has made her being included in general education so much easier... so if you are reading, thank you.