As many of you know, I have a child who just happens to have Down Syndrome. His name is Malcolm and he is currently eight years of age and just completed the second grade. So, I have decided that I will share some experiences as his parent.
Here’s the first venture.
If you need any more proof that the greatest resource a school can have is its people (administration, teachers, students, and support staff), then look at this picture.
That’s my son, Malcolm. He happens to have Down Syndrome. It doesn’t define him. It just happens to be something he has.
My wife and I knew through prenatal testing that we were having a child with Trisomy 21.
It didn’t matter. He was ours and we were his. Actually, the world is his. He may grow up to be a benevolent dictator and require all people to play basketball with him. Meanwhile, he wears his Space Jam / Michael Jordan jersey and a West Forsyth Titan baseball cap any chance he gets.
And he likes going out to eat, especially if the chicken fingers are good.
But he is not a typical child. He has delays. Standardized test results do not show him to be standardized. He is unique – just like every other student.
Malcolm has an IEP (Individual Education Program) that is as thick as a Tolstoy novel. It is a “work in progress” that dictates how he will be delivered instruction and educational opportunities. The first item that his mother and I put on that IEP was that he would be able to navigate in this world and be as much a part of it as possible.
In short, we wanted him exposed to as many typically developing students as possible and be around students who modeled behavior and skills we wished him to develop.
Tests and assessments that drive data-driven decisions many times can take away the personal link that exists between students and teachers. Solely placing students in situations that are based on numbers can impersonally label people.
And people are not standard. They are individuals.
We have had a series of IEP meetings of late. Data from some tests suggest that Malcolm should be in a more self-contained classroom, and he would have been in good hands if that were the case in a good school with great leadership. But when the data were considered alongside the preferences of parents, the insight of teachers who knew him, and the willingness of administration to find every possible way to make Malcolm successful in an environment that he knew and was comfortable in, we put aside the impersonal and made educational decisions based on the individual.
Malcolm will continue to learn from those that he trusts and emulates in a place that is in his neighborhood.
And I would like to think that he and his differently-abled self will teach a lot to the other students about how very similar we all are even if we have differences.