On March 21, for World Down Syndrome Day, I went to Kayla's school to read the book High Fives and a Big Heart to her class. I also wanted to talk a little bit with her classmates about Down syndrome and what it does and doesn't mean for Kayla. I showed them this picture of her chromosomes and explained about the 3 chromosomes on #21.
I didn't have a lot of time to talk with them, but overall I think it went well.
At the beginning I asked if anyone heard of Down syndrome and what they knew about it. A few hands went up and the first girl I called on answered that her mom told her it was when someone acted younger than their age.
Another girl - J - one of Kayla's friends from the bus and who lives down the street from us, said "It's just a thing."
I like that. Down syndrome is no big deal ... it's just a thing!
I mentioned things that Kayla can still do, things that she likes, and places she's been to show how she is similar to her peers. I asked questions like, "Has anyone been on an airplane? Who likes roller coasters? Who likes to go to the beach?" and each time I saw her classmates all glancing over to see if Kayla was raising her hand to the questions too. I hope it made them see her as more like them than different.
Then I started reading the book. It's written and illustrated by a 4th grade class about Jeffrey, their classmate who has Down syndrome. One part of the book mentions that if anyone is mean to Jeffrey they will stick up for him.
There is a boy in Kayla's class who was sitting in the first row and I heard him mumble, "I wish I had someone to do that for me." An aide in the room quietly said his name and he again mumbled, "What? I'm always getting picked on at recess."
After I finished the book the class had to line up to go to art. As they were doing this, J, the girl I mentioned earlier, walked by me and told me, "Some other kids think Kayla is weird, but I don't think that."
Ouch. She wasn't saying it to be mean. I like J. She has always been friendly with Kayla, they play together outside and she's been inside our house a few times to play. I've wanted to ask her more about that; to ask what kids say about Kayla, to ask what Kayla does that makes other kids think she's weird, but I haven't had the chance.
I also willed myself not to cry as I left the school that day. Of course it hurts to hear that other kids think your kid is weird. Of course I know not everyone will like Kayla (or Lucas for that matter). We're not friends with everyone in our class and it's not realistic to expect that. I know kids can be made whether you have special needs or not (and I was reminded of this fact when I thought about the boy who mumbled out while I was reading the book about wishing he had someone to stick up for him.)
But as a parent your heart still hurts for your child.
I wrote about this experience and how parenting requires thick skin on the website What to Expect. You can read more in my article How My Daughter Helped Me Grow Thick Skin.