I love summer. I love practically everything about it. But as we enter the month of August my sweet, lovely and extremely needy little munchkins get restless and I begin to feel a tiny bit claustrophobic. By the time our alarm clocks buzz on the first day of school, everyone under our roof is ready to go their separate ways and conquer the world.
Honestly though? There is a great deal of anxiety for me that has built up in regards to a new school year. You see, my eldest daughter has Down syndrome. This year, she’ll be starting second grade.
And unfortunately, as the years have gone by, we’ve been given more and more reason to begin our school year on edge.
Let me explain.
When my daughter with Down syndrome steps onto her school campus, she is stepping into an environment that is not created for her and her needs. I know she isn’t the only kid out there fighting this battle, the battle of being “different”. And we aren’t the only parents.
We’re all so uniquely and beautifully designed.
Anytime we try to fit ourselves into a cookie-cutter system, it has a way of highlighting our differences.
All day long, she’s crossing paths with people—adults and peers—who don’t know what to do with her. She is bravely and boldly bending and flexing and squeezing her way into a world that has refused to make the needed spaces for her and her unique ways of living and learning.
That’s a big task for a little girl. But she is doing it.
And to be honest, as her mother, watching the way people sometime respond to her difference—excluding her, keeping her out, sending the message that she is somehow not good enough, simply because she is different, breaks my heart.
Since when did different become a downfall?
Because what I see when I look at her is a radiant and beautiful girl who has gifts to offer the world no one else can, who sees things in a way that no one else does, and who has a smile that will change your whole life.
It’s so important we make space in our lives for “different”.
Different might seem inconvenient. It might seem frustrating. It might force us to stretch our imaginations and our comfort zones and to adjust expectations and expand our oh-so-small minds. But the truth is we are all different. Every single one of us.
Difference is where the beauty is.
Can you imagine a world where nobody was different?
As a mother of a child with a different ability, I need you to know how needed you—and your differences—really are.
Here are some things I hope we can all remember:
- Don’t pretend we aren’t different: In other words, don’t ignore the fact there are kids with different abilities at your child’s school, at your churches, in your community. Talk to your kids about it. Role play appropriate ways to respond to a possible uncomfortable situation. Parents of children with different abilities are spending hours upon hours teaching our kids how to fit in and be socially acceptable. But this goes both ways and not all of the pressure of our kids fitting in at school should fall on our shoulders.
- Love the underdog: and your kids will do the same. Teach your kids to have eyes that seek out the “different” and lonely students and then teach them how to be inclusive. Brainstorm activities that can be fun for everyone, and that people with different abilities can participate in.
- Speak up with us: there are so few of us who have children with different abilities and so our voice, no matter how loud we yell, is still a weak whisper. Are all the kids with different abilities in separate classes at your child’s school? Talk to the teachers, administration and super intendent insisting that your child have differently abled students in his/her class room.
- Build relationships: This first week of school, step out of your comfort zone, seek out the child with a different ability, and invite them over for a playdate. (You don’t have a ramp for their wheelchair? Go to the park, create fun play in the front yard, get creative!). Relationships are the key to positive change for any minority group.
We are all different but we sure do need each other.
Together is always, always, better.