Fall 2012

Fall 2012
[learning to live a perfectly imperfect life]

Happy Halloween!

Letter to 3rd Grade Classmates' Parents

When Rylee was in Kindergarten and 1st Grade, I wrote a "Letter from Rylee" to send home with her classmates, written to their parents (you can read that letter here.)

Last year, Rylee began 2nd Grade, and I knew it had to be different. I am often approached by other parents as to how they can appropriately and positively talk to their children about disabilities. We all want to raise children who are very accepting and appreciative of differences in others, but it can sometimes be difficult to know exactly what to say or how to say it.

So, last year's letter wasn't written from Rylee's perspective, but instead Jeremy's and mine. It went home with all of her 2nd grade classmates (for their parents) the first week of school, and we got really kind feedback!
Before deciding what to do this year, wanted to stand back and re-evaluate. I know there are differing opinions among parents of children with various abilities... some believe that sending a letter is not a good idea, because it points out to parents/kids that there are differences and it's counterproductive to the whole idea of "everyone has differences and we should just accept each other."  There are others who feel that the kids will inevitably notice differences and it's important for us as parents of the child to promote understanding and acceptance by bringing it up.  Honestly, I think there is some validity to both thoughts!  

So, this summer, I reached out to some parents of Rylee's classmates -- parents who have become friends of mine and whose opinions I value.  I wanted to get their thoughts on the letter in general, as well as specific thoughts they may have about what the letter could include to be most helpful.  Finding out what questions their children have asked them about Rylee would help give me a perspective I don't have.  The responses were heart-warming... all of them supported and appreciated the letter, and some shared their thoughts. (These parents have given me permission to share their thoughts!)

"As a parent, it gave me better insight into what to expect and gave me the verbiage to help explain this to (my child.)  It's always good review.  It also made me very comfortable with (my son) having a child with a disABILITY in his class because I knew the parents were very involved.  Your letter has helped us build a community for their class."

"(My son) hasn't really said much. He enjoys having Rylee in his class.  When in Kindergarten, I explained about genes and how some kids are born with an extra set.  This just means you need to be patient, stand up for her if kids are not being nice, help her in school when possible, etc... which is exactly what I would hope you would do for anyone in your school.  Since that conversation in Kindergarten, (my son) has accepted it at face value."

"I love that your daughter is part of the canvas of the class of 2023... it makes every difference, normal."

"I love your letters. I have always found them informative and useful. Especially the first one in Kindergarten, I was SO thankful for that letter. Now that (my daughter) and Rylee are such good friends, she doesn't have any questions. I understand the dilemma about the letters... but in my opinion I think it would be great if every child sent home a letter outlining some of their differences. . . don't you feel like as humans we are more accepting and understanding of others differences if we understand where they come from? Rylee is a wonderful child and I'm glad she is (my daughter's) friend."

"I think that a letter is a great idea.  I feel that kids are very eager to learn and will take whatever information you give them.  I think it is better for them to be informed about what they can expect rather than have something come up that they don't know how to deal with."

"I strongly believe that information is key, and kids will react much better to anything that comes their way if they have the proper information."

* * * * *
If you are a parent of a child with different abilities trying to decide if a letter (or something similar) is right for your situation, hopefully these comments will give you some insight into the benefits of a letter!

This year when Rylee began 3rd grade, I just tweaked last year's letter... Rylee is very lucky to have wonderful friends with amazingly supportive parents! Rylee continues to grow up with a tremendous support system around her at school! 

Dear Parents,

Can you believe we have kids in 3rd grade?! Many of your children have been here at our Elementary School since Kindergarten, so we already know you! But there are others who may be new to the school. We thought it might be helpful to write to you. As our kids grow and change, they notice more, inquire more, and understand more.

Our daughter, Rylee, is a fun little girl with a dynamic personality. She has an infectious giggle, and loves playing with her baby dolls and reading books. Besides being very “typical”, she also has Down syndrome. Your child might come home with questions for you, wanting to know more about Rylee. As parents of a child with Down syndrome, we are often asked how to address some of these questions. Below are some common questions and answers that we hope are helpful.

Research has shown that children with Down syndrome benefit from being placed in a regular education class, receiving their education alongside typically developing children of their own age. Typically developing peers give children with Down syndrome the role models they need to acquire new skills, encourage age-appropriate behavior, develop independence and friendships.

It’s also important to your child! Studies have shown that inclusion is beneficial to the other children in the class. Inclusion facilitates greater understanding, patience and compassion as well as learning to be supportive of one another. Children also learn to value diversity and to appreciate that everyone has something beneficial to bring to the life of the school and the community.

We are grateful for the support that Rylee has had here at our Elementary School! We appreciate being in a school that teaches understanding and embraces and values differences!

We look forward to a great year in (Mrs. Smith’s) classroom and can’t wait to share this school year with you all! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

Sincerely , Carin &  Jeremy Griffith
(phone number and email address)

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Thoughts on Talking to Your Children About Down Syndrome:

What Is Down Syndrome?

“Our bodies are made up of cells, which are so tiny that we would need a special microscope to see them! Inside these cells are even tinier things called chromosomes. These carry the directions that tell our bodies how to grow. People with Down syndrome have an extra chromosome. This means that the growing plan works differently than other people. If someone has Down syndrome, they have that extra chromosome before they are even born. It’s not a disease or sickness, so you can’t “catch” Down syndrome from someone who has it. If someone is born with Down syndrome, they will always have it. Often people with Down syndrome look a little bit like each other, but they also look a lot like their parents and brothers and sisters.”

What Does Down Syndrome Mean to Someone Who Has It?

• “Kids with Down syndrome will be able to do nearly all the things that other kids do. They just may take a little longer to learn them. They may also have to work harder to learn them. Some kids may have to work harder to speak clearly; others may need to work harder to learn to skip or jump rope.”

• “Having Down syndrome also means that there may be muscles in the body that don’t work like other kids; for example, being able to control going to the bathroom may take a little longer.”
(At this point, it’s helpful to discuss with children the things that are easy for them to do, and things they needed to practice more to do them... such as, “Remember when you found it hard to _______? It helped you to have extra time, lots of practice, and some help when you needed it.”)

• “Kids with Down syndrome have some extra teachers who will help them, in addition to your classroom teacher. These teachers have different classrooms where the kids will go during the school day for a while, and they help the kids work on things that may be more difficult for them. Kids with Down syndrome may also have an aide who will help them if they need it.”

What Can You Do to Be a Friend to Someone with Down Syndrome?

• “The most important thing you can do is remember that kids with Down syndrome are KIDS FIRST! They feel, love, play, laugh, learn and have fun just like you! They would like to be treated as you would treat any of your friends. They may not do all the things that you do, but they are not babies and would be hurt if you treated them that way.”

• “It’s important that you not do things for them... it’s better if you can show them how to do something so they can learn to do it themselves. If they do not understand the rules, help them!”

• “You can be a good friend to them by being patient and kind. Even though kids with Down syndrome may not be as quick or as good at something than you, give them a turn! Give them a chance to show you something they are good at!

• “If they do something silly, don’t laugh at them... instead just show them a different way to do it.”

• “If you don’t understand what someone with Down syndrome said, politely ask them to say it again or ask an adult to help you understand.”

Different and Same

• “Look around your classroom... you will see that all of your classmates look different. Here are some things that you might notice: Kids have differently colored hair & eyes, and have different shapes to our faces and bodies. Some kids learn quickly, while some take longer to learn. Some kids like to run, while others would prefer to read a book. Some kids are very friendly, while some feel shy. Everyone is unique! You don’t have to be exactly the same to like being together, to be friends or just to be classmates.”

• “There are also ways that make all kids the same! Kids with Down syndrome actually are more ALIKE you than they are DIFFERENT. You laugh at funny things and cry when you are sad. Kids with Down syndrome do, too. You get upset sometimes and make mistakes. Kids with Down syndrome do, too. You like it when kids are kind to you and you cry if people make fun of you. Kids with Down syndrome do, too. You like to have fun with your friends, learn new things, and feel good about yourself. Kids with Down syndrome do, too.”

We hope this is helpful to you! Thanks for spreading awareness about Down syndrome!

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If you would like to read other "Letters from Rylee",
please click on "Letters from Rylee" at the top.
(You may then click on each letter to download a pdf file.)
Thanks for passing along and helping to raise awareness!
© 2012 Carin Griffith • Disability Awareness Alliance™