Until two months ago, a friend cared for Max at her in-home daycare. She's an amazing baby-whisperer type, and dropping Max off with her felt like leaving him with family. So I knew I would be okay dropping him off, and he would be okay playing and learning without me, but I was worried about how he would be received, and what new challenges we would find as he entered a classroom setting.
Our school? They have been amazing. They didn't bat an eye when they heard the words Down syndrome. The director has been diligent about thinking of the places where Max might need a hand (for instance, knowing who is responsible for carrying him out during a fire drill since he doesn't walk), but not smothering him. His teachers report back on his antics, tell me when he's learned something new, but generally don't dwell on listing off how he was or wasn't keeping up with the class each day. Max had a first picture day, brought home his first artwork, went on his first field trip.
The best part, for me, is watching him communicate with his new class all on his own. One day when I picked him up he was wearing a hat--a hat he found in his classroom in the morning and hadn't given up all day. It's a little thing, but he loves hats at home, too, and I was so glad that without many words he was able to let that piece of his personality shine. He asks to hear songs again and again, he pushes his way to the front of the room to watch the video they see before naptime. He comes home covered in paint one day and spaghetti sauce the next. He's being himself, and his teachers and friends are loving him for it.
The preschool director, Max's two teachers (and one's daughter), one parent and one student attended the Buddy Walk with us this year. That's six folks who were at the Buddy Walk who wouldn't have had a connection with Down syndrome if we hadn't taken a chance on sending Max to a mainstream preschool.
I do worry that our experience in the last month has made me unreasonably optimistic about my expectations for inclusion in the future. After all, it's not too hard to include an adorable two-year-old, when all of the other two-year-olds are also wearing diapers and learning how to talk. I've heard the refrain that it gets harder. But I'm going to ignore it for now. Preschool, for me, is a delightful little bubble, and we'll deal with the rest when we get there.
After all, Max now has 6 new advocates working for his inclusion.