Five going on six-year-old Willem started Kindergarten in September 2012. His parents shared their thoughts about their son’s start to school as part of an interview just published in my children’s column in KV Style and then on my blog.
What did I learn about Willem? Well, he loves to color and has a great crayon grasp (a tidbit shared by his mom no doubt because I am an occupational therapist!). Willem speaks with sign language (his hearing is just fine) and is now also using an iPad as his voice. He has attended pre-school since he was 3 years old. Willem also has Down syndrome.
As an occupational therapist, it was enlightening do learn what Willem’s parents want for the start of his journey in school. I am so grateful to his parents for opening their home and their hearts to me.
What Willem’s parents want his teachers to know.
Willem’s mom relayed that his before Kindergarten testing was also “testing” for her. As she was interpreting his sign language responses, the assessor felt she was exaggerating his replies and abilities.
Willem is a bright, capable boy. His parents say he should not be underestimated just because “he has an extra chromosome”. Willem’s parents want him to be just as much a part of the classroom and school as every other child. His mom was once told; he might be happy to sit and color at school, the teacher won’t have time to work with him. His parents him to be taught and challenged. They are optimistic using his iPad will allow him to speak and contribute just as much as his peers.
What Willem’s parents want his classmates to know.
Willem’s pre-school classmates have provided his mom with a favorite and best memory. Slower to master stair climbing, he watched his peers intently as they walked up and down the stairs every day to gym as he always crawled up and “bummed” down behind them. One day, he waited his turn, gave a decisive nod of his head and walked up the stairs behind his peers, and has never looked back!
His parents say that while young children may comment “Willem doesn’t talk” they most often follow that up with a comment like “That’s OK” and play away.
Willem’s parents want his peers to know they are the most motivating and important teachers he will have.
What Willem’s parents want other parents to know.
To the parents of typical children; treat Willem as they would their own children. Down syndrome does not give him the right to be treated differently. He has chores and household rules in his home. When he visits friends, their parents should not treat Willem any differently than their own child.
Remember the important role your child has in the life in another child’s, in particular, his mom says in the life of her son with special needs. Have him over on a play date, invite him to a party, be his friend.
To the parents of any child with a different or special need. Find at least one other parent who has a child with similar needs. The local Down syndrome Society has been her savior. His mom appreciates the availability to talk to other moms who understand what day to day life is really like. From adults with Down syndrome, his parents have learned the importance of Willem having friends who also have Down syndrome in addition to those that don’t. For Willem’s siblings, it offers them a peer group of siblings who may share their questions, their embarrassments, or their frustrations as well as their joys.
What Willem’s parents want therapists and specialist educators to know.
Celebrate the small stuff. We therapists are always working on the next step once one is achieved. Parents want the small stuff (that often takes weeks and months of parenting devotion to attain) to be party-worthy too! And explain the why when showing the how in therapy or remediation. Share every single resource; parents want it all and will pick what helps them best.
These are the best take home messages for my team of occupational therapists and I!
What Willem’s parents want everyone to know.
Willem and other people with Down syndrome go to school, have friends, get jobs, and get married too. People who have Down syndrome do everything everyone else does. Sometimes they do it in a different order or at different speed or to a different level. Raising a child with Down syndrome takes some hard parenting work, but they also have a team and network of expertise and support to rely on that they don’t have for their other children. Their dreams for Willem are the same for all their children; happiness and success.
If you ever wonder if occupational therapy can help your child starting Kindergarten, I have written two FREE eBooks you can download, the first describes when occupational therapy can help pre-schoolers and the second when occupational therapy can help school-age children. -OT Christel Seeberger