Recently, one of the moms from my son’s class reached out to me for advice on how to help her friend that had just received a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. As I read the message, I got goosebumps and my heart filled with joy. I was instantly happy for this mama-to-be that I had never met and likely never will. I also felt an instant connection to her and intense feelings of empathy. I knew immediately this was another example of the positive effects of inclusion.
I had not been in this mama-to-be shoes exactly, as we found out after his birth that our son had an extra chromosome, but I’m certain I experienced many of the same emotions and concerns. I did, however, have the benefit of having had my heart captured at the first glance of my son. I know this mama-to-be does not have the benefit of feeling love before all other emotions and that is why she needs extra support and encouragement.
Nevertheless, I knew I could help the mom from my son’s class. I know what this mama and all others receiving a diagnosis of Down syndrome need most. All these lucky few mamas-to-be need a friend that will listen to their worries and validate their feelings but will also take them out shopping for adorable newborn clothing and tiny diapers. These moms need a shoulder to cry on, and also a friend that will celebrate her baby and say, “congratulations!” when he/she is born. Mamas-to-be need a friend with real-life stories of Down syndrome to balance out negative doctors and inaccurate information on the internet. They need a friend that will be understanding and also uplifting.
Hopefully this mama-to-be will have many friends that will do these things for her, but unfortunately, she may not because her other friends simply may not know how to respond. That’s why inclusion is so powerful. This mom from my son’s class knows what Down syndrome really looks like and because of my son, has a connection to it. She also has somebody to go to for additional information and advice on how to be a supportive friend.
I encouraged the mom from my son’s class to share with her friend stories about my son. I even took the opportunity to brag about my son so she could tell her friend that he can read 17 sight words, knows and participates in the Pledge of Allegiance every morning and is friends will all his classmates. I think hearing these things just might be the hope this mama-to-be needs.
Inclusion spreads hope because it is real life. It isn’t the gloomy, outdated information parents-to-be read about on the internet or, sadly, hear from their doctors.
The positive effects of inclusion aren’t always tangible, nor can they be captured in reports or studies. Sometimes they are subtle, significant and life-changing.
I recently heard a story online about a kindergartener that had a friend in her class with Down syndrome. She came to school so excited to share the news that her cousin would also be born with Ds. This girl’s perceptions had been shaped by real life; having a classmate with Down syndrome, not misinformation.
Likely, this girl’s aunt was nervous maybe even terrified to have a baby with Down syndrome. Maybe the mom-to-be had never met a person with Down syndrome. And perhaps, her doctor preceded her baby’s diagnosis with the words, “I’m sorry.” She needed a glimmer of hope. She needed her niece’s excitement. She needed to hear her real experiences in an inclusive classroom.
That little girl’s excitement provided something the Google searches on “Down syndrome,” late at night done with tear-filled eyes couldn’t. Because she was in an inclusive classroom, she could provide hope, excitement, and love for her unborn cousin. Because of inclusion, a baby that otherwise might not have been given a chance at life may now be born into a loving family that sees all of his or her potentials.
Connections like these happen because of inclusion. Inclusion connects us all and reveals our commonalities, as well as, what makes us each unique. Both should be celebrated.
Often parents and school teams look to studies about whether or not inclusion is right. Every study that has ever been done on inclusion proves it is beneficial for not only the person being included but also for the teachers and classmates. Yes… Every. Single. One. Powerful, I know!
But it is the intangibles; the real-life stories that can’t be made into statistics, the changes in perceptions that naturally happen, and the ripple effect of knowing somebody with Down syndrome that results from inclusion that is most powerful. Experiences in an inclusive classroom connect individuals with differences, shape positive perceptions and spread hope.
I grateful that the mom from my son’s class trusted me to help her. I know that she will be the friend that the mama-to-be and future member of the “lucky few” community needs in her life right now. All of the positive support, reassurance, and hope that this mom is able to provide her friend are the result of an inclusive classroom. Inclusion is powerful.