What I learned in 1st grade from my child, with DS, with an aide in an inclusive setting. More lessons learned since Kindergarten.

By Teresa Gruber

Although a teacher may not have experience working with a child with ds, if she/he is one to think outside the box and loves kids, they’re perfect for the job.

If your principal is in favor of inclusion, 99.99% of the battle is complete; he/she will make sure your child gets what they need.

In the beginning of the year, train the aide(s). Don’t expect the school district to do it because it’s not on their priority list.  We spent a lot of time talking about behavior and transition strategies which sometimes included getting other kids to help.  They loved it and he responded great to his peers.  We wanted our aide in time to become more of a classroom aide instead of being velcro to his hip.  In his class, there were 3 other kids that were diagnosed with special needs over the course of the year.

4. Be visible to all school staff and your child’s schoolmates even if you have a full-time job outside the home.  Help support your teachers/PTA in any way possible. If you can’t work in the classroom, do prep work at home for the teacher, take on a project with the PTA or support them by purchasing supplies. It shows your support for everyone.

5. Continue to reach out to others and make play dates or host an event at your house.  Many parents would like to do things with others’ but don’t have the time or energy do initiate it.  I had a mother’s potluck luncheon and wedding shower at my house which was well attended for both.  We have so many things in common with other parents if you just get to get to know them.

6. If you have a good aide or community learning environment in the classroom, recess playmates aren’t a problem.  Brandon had so many friends during recess the aide had to break up arguments of who was going to sit next to Brandon.

7. Kids at this age still think your child with ds is just smaller than the rest.  According to other mothers, their children thought Brandon was younger, not different.  Some kids would comment how smart he was because he was chosen “Reader of the Month” and he was in “The Pink” group which was highest reading level in the class.

8. Parents who believe in inclusion learn a great deal from your child.  For the parents who work in the classroom they will see your child’s strengths, not their disability.  In fact, they’ll be your advocate for your child.

9. Ask for less but meaningful homework to support their IEP.  We did most of the volume of regular homework this year, but we
worked in specific areas of need; reading comprehension, spelling and math concepts.

10. Get your husband, male friend, grandfather or uncle to go and volunteer at least 1 day during the year in the classroom.  Tim did a teaching lesson on marine animals which included learning a new song.  He went a couple of times in the classroom and at recess.  Since they rarely see men in the classroom or at school events, the highlight for many of the kids was when  “Mr. Gruber” came to teach class. They wanted him to come back for another lesson.  The perception of a child seeing a “dad” or father figure made Brandon the cool kid in class(my husband has fun with the kids).

11. Figure out which is more important: inclusion for social reasons or more special education services.  This year we gave up OT services for more inclusion.  They knew we wanted Brandon to be in the class more than going in and out all day.  As a result the resource teacher pushed in services and the speech therapist facilitated group sessions which included kids in his classroom to help to develop his social skills.  Both were great!

12. Without burning out your child, get them in the community or involved in outside school activities.  It is great to see the same kids from school outside of an academic setting.  We see so many kids and adults in the community who went out of their way to say hi to Brandon was in a community play where met new friends from others schools.  Other activities included baseball, and cub scouts.

13. Keep a daily journal to communicate with the aide/teacher(s).  Ideas to include would be: interesting or eventful things that happened at school, his weekly job, his speech/resource services on the scheduled day(accountability) or any interesting topic that I could talk to him about on the way home from school.  It also is a great guide to track progress.  I would read their comments so we could talk immediately about his day.  When the aide and I looked what he was did over the course of the year, it was exciting to see major progress.  At the end of the year, we took the whole IEP team to lunch to debrief what worked, what didn’t and what we wanted to enhance for the next year(different from IEP goals).  Very much like a performance review in business world.

14. Get to know every person’s name who interacts with your child on a daily basis such as: janitor(s), recess aides, PE, music, art and computer teachers, librarian, administrators and of course the IEP team.  We took pictures and memorized their names.  They love to be addressed by name from our kids.

15. Continue to live in both worlds. Through the special needs groups, network for additional resources to help both the teacher and to foster relationships with kids and families with special needs.  The separation of abilities will come soon enough.

16. If you want to retain your child in the same grade for academic purposes, insist for that to happen.  First grade is the foundational year; reading, writing and math to name a few.  We figure if he can do most of what the class can do, he’ll be able to read menu’s, bus schedules and write letters to friends.  Next year we’re repeating 1st grade and partial bridging 2nd grade academics in reading.  We’ll monitor and reassess as the year progresses.

17. The most significant lesson I learned this year that I didn’t know in Kindergarten was the importance of a good teacher and administration.  If you have one but not the other that’s okay, but it could be awesome to have both!

If we could chronicle Brandon’s year in 1st grade, it would have been an excellent teaching tool to help other inclusive environments.  I wouldn’t have changed anything because he felt so empowered by his teacher.  Since this was her first experience working with a child with DS, she had no preconceptions of his abilities and expected a lot from him.  Our goal this year was to have Brandon sit and do all activities at his own pace and maybe have one or two friends by the end of the year.  He exceeded all of the IEP and social goals that we sought at the beginning of the year.  We monitored and partnered in coming up with behavior strategies(sticking his tongue out at his aides to break them into their new role and test their patience).

In a great learning environment where every child is respected, challenged and invited to do their best, it’s amazing what our children can achieve.  We had very low expectations going into the year compared to the outcome based on our challenging year in Kindergarten.

Our parting comment from Brandon’s teacher was, “Hey buddy, are you ready to do this again next year?  I’m excited and it will we’ll have even more fun!”

What a difference it makes to have a great teacher.  We knew, she knew and Brandon knew he would, could and he did.

Next stop, repeating first grade.
I’ll tell you what I learned in another year….

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