I wrote recently about River’s first parent/ teachers conference and what a positive experience it was for us. No reminding us of how far behind River is to his peers or of the things he can’t do, but a focus on his achievements and the things he is doing well. It brought me so much peace of mind knowing that the school value him and see his worth. But since then I have had so many comments, messages and emails telling me that they wish they were so lucky, and that parents evening is the worst day of the year for most parents who have children with Down syndrome. So I wrote a letter.
Do you know how many parents of children with Down syndrome dread parents evening? Probably most. So many are left feeling deflated and sad, at a time where they should be feeling proud.
“Nothing like parents evening to ruin your positivity”
“We have parents evening this evening – deep breaths”
“Can’t wait for parents evening tonight so I can hear about all the things my daughter can’t do”
All genuine quotes I’ve read.
You know, it’s not so long ago that children like mine weren’t even allowed inside a classroom with typical kids. I guess they were deemed unteachable. Or more likely, less worthy. So we should be celebrating the fact that our children are now going to mainstream schools, being included with education, learning and socialising. Even if it is in a different way than “normal”. You really should be celebrating and feeling lucky that you are being given the opportunity to teach our children and change futures.
As parents, we don’t need to be told about all the things our children can’t do. We don’t need to constantly be reminded of how far behind their peers they are in development. We don’t need to hear that they are struggling to keep up, because we already know. We see it every single day, every single time our children are around children of their own age. It’s not an easy thing for us to accept, but we do. And when we find peace with it, it isn’t helpful to constantly be reminded of how delayed they are academically.
We know it’s not easy to have a child in your class with additional needs. We know how much extra time of yours it takes for you to adapt their work, figure out alternatives teaching styles and try to figure out how to help our children. We know and we appreciate it, more than you will ever know. But we also hope you know how wonderful our children are, how much they want to learn and how much they deserve it. They have as much right as every single other child in your classroom to be there. They are not less than or worse, they are just different. They have a right to learn, and I truly hope you see it as your responsibility to find a way to teach them.
The truth is that our children are never going to be at level with their peers. If we are aiming for them to “catch up” then we are wasting everybody’s time. It’s an impossible task for teachers, disheartening for parents and unfair on the children. We don’t send them to school to become the same as everyone else, or to get them working to the same level as their classmates. We send them to school so they can reach THEIR own personal potential, whatever that may be. By constantly reminding us how they are not working to the same standards as their classmates, you are constantly reminding us that our children’s worth is based on their academic abilities.
So please, please start telling us what they can do. Tell us the positives and areas in which they are thriving. Tell us what they are working on, what they are enjoying and areas in which they have progressed. Tell us how much joy they bring to your classroom. Tell us how happy it makes you that they are there. Of course tell us your concerns, because we need to hear them. But not to remind us how behind they are, because they always will be. Nothing we can do can change that. Tell us your concerns so we can work out how to improve things, and look for ideas to help us help our children together. Let’s work as a team to find solutions and help equip our children with fitting into their school life. Let us help you! The aim is progress, let’s aim for that. We don’t need our children to be the same, just accepted and wanted.
Inclusion benefits the whole of society, not just the children who are different.Make the most of the opportunity you have to really make a positive difference to future generations, and show every child that differences are beautiful and that you don’t have to be top of the class to be brilliant. You don’t have to be the same as everyone else to have a great life! Show every child that worth is not defined by how normal you are.
Please help us do that. And know this. You can learn so much more from children with Down syndrome, than you will ever be able to teach them.
You are the lucky one.