When "Back to School" Is Different

Another school year greets our family. It is the first time all my girls will be in school. They have clean, brand new backpacks, and their school supplies are neatly organized. They stand by the front door ready for me to snap a picture.

Ellie is ready to conquer the world. The smile she wears and the hop in her step are evidence of her self-confidence. I see that, even in her picture.

Nina smiles, but I see the nervous way in which she holds on to her walker. Her knees seem a little unstable today. She has been to her school before. She has met her teacher, her aides and every single therapist that will work with her. We spent time in her classroom making sure that she could get around in her walker or wheelchair. She has a cute special chair for extra support when sitting at the table, and one for sitting on the floor. We made sure that the right adaptive equipment was available so she could use the bathroom as independently as possible. Yet, her picture reveals that despite all the help she will get, the challenges that her body and mind will face at school because of Cerebral Palsy are scary when you are only 5 years old. I know there are other kids that are shy, or that feel very nervous. I know other children ask to go home or cry and cling to their parents. I get that, but this is different.

Nichole refuses to have her picture taken. She is angry. Angry that we have changed her routine. She does not want to go to school and demands to go inside the house again. She holds on to her cup of milk, her bowl of crackers, and the cover of one of her favorite shows while she cries in protest as we buckle her in the car. I wish she had the words to tell me how she feels. Even more than that, it makes me sad to think that she will not be able to tell me about her day when she returns home. If I could change one thing about how Down syndrome affects Nichole, it would be her speech. I know that other kids don't want to go to school. I know they too throw fits and kick and pout about it. I get that, but this is different.

My husband Andy and I take the girls to school. As we walk out the door, I want to cry. I know many moms cry too, I get that. But this is different. Two of my children have special needs. The complexities of their schooling careers are hard even for me to understand at times. I hold on to their potential, and to the fact that just like their big sister, my 2 “special” children also will shine, and pray that their classmates and teachers will see their light too.