Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Pre K Introduction's been over a year since my last blog post...that tells you how exciting our lives have been.  But that's ok, boring is good.  Like all other stay at home moms (part time or full time), I am doing the BACK TO SCHOOL happy dance.  My mind is spinning with all the things I am going to do with my free time 3 days a week!  I might go to the gym, I might go shopping, will probably do some DSAMC work, will definitely spend the first few days sitting at Starbucks staring at the walls. 

School wise we made a pretty big change for Jake last year & we choose to pull him out of the school district at 6 years old and put him in a private preschool.  Didn't know that was a option, did ya?  We didn't either.  Until the school district tried to pin us in a corner & tell us where Jake would go.  They really left us no option as they were not going to "give in" to any of our requests as to how his education was going to happen.  Nothing.  It was simply a take it or leave it kind of meeting.  So we left it. 

We were introduced to a AMAZING preschool in our area where Jake was welcomed with open arms, hearts, and minds.  There were no issues of his age, no issues that he was not yet potty issues what so ever.  They even offered him a 1 on 1 aid since this was a big change for him & the help was anticipated.  The only question that was ever asked was where do we, his parents feel like he will fit in.  Jake ended up being in a class of 3-4 year olds, 2 days a week for 2.5 hours.  IT WAS THE BEST THING WE EVER DID FOR HIM.  We learned so much about him and how he learns, what he needs & doesn't need.  Not to say it was all rainbows and was a new experience & it had it's bumps in the road, life always will...but it was a amazing year.  With that said, we decided to do it again this year.  Today we went to his new class room, met some new friends, said hi to some old friends, and took a deep breath.  Last year I at this time I had so many emotions running thru me, I thought I was going to explode.  I was so angry with the school district, so excited to find a alternative, so filled with love that they genuinely wanted him there, and so anxious that I had no idea how it was going to work out.  This year, completely different story.  2 emotions...excitement & joy.  I am so excited for Jake...I feel big things are going to come our way this year.  It's our year of bumping up last years game to get us ready for the big leagues.  Besides the prep & the therapy and all the educational parts of school, this is the year that I start building the foundation for the friendship, the true, life long friendships that Jake will have.  This is the year that we will invite HIS friends from school & outside of school to his birthday party.  This is the year that we will become more social without the fear of parents & kids not "getting" Jake.  This is the year that it's gonna get real.

So, what prompted this post (1.5 years since the last)...Jake's birthday & his new class.  Jake will turn 7 in a few weeks & I want his classmates to come (I also invited a few of his classmates from last year).  It's most likely that his new classmates would not come, because they don't know him yet & lets face it...our situation is a little different.  We tend to fear the unknown & Down syndrome is still pretty unknown, unless it's part of your life.  So I feel like I need to step up my parent game and do something about it.  So I decided to write a letter to the parents of Jake's classmates.  The letter will be in the same envelope as his birthday party invitation.  Here is our letter:


Dear preschool parents,

We would like to introduce you to our son, Jake.  We know that it is uncommon to introduce our child this way, but we wanted you all to know a little about him.  This is Jake’s 2nd year at West Side Preschool.  Our hearts are full knowing that Jake has been so warmly embraced by the staff & families at West Side Preschool last year, and we are excited for the new friends and opportunities this school year. 

Jake has Down syndrome, and while that is a part of who he is, it does not define him.  Jake is a little boy first, Down syndrome is part of his genetic makeup, just like his hazel eyes and dirty blonde hair.

Jake is almost 7 years old.  We know it seems odd to have him in a class with 4-5 year olds, but developmentally and physically, that is where he fits in best.  Jake is ALL boy.  He is a ball of energy.  He loves to play outside, if there is water & mud, even better.  Jake likes to give hugs & hold hands.  Hugs sometimes turn into Wrestle Mania, but we are working on that.  Everyone is a buddy.  He loves to high five.  His favorite snacks are Cheez-It crackers, bananas, and string cheese.  He is not the prettiest of eaters, but he gets the job done. 

Still wondering why we felt the need to introduce Jake to you?  Well it’s pretty simple, we want you & your child to feel comfortable around Jake, and in doing so, you have to understand a little about who he is.  For instance, Jake is pretty much nonverbal.  We are working hard on that & you will quickly notice that Jake may not have the ability to verbally tell you what he wants or needs, but he will find a way to make you understand.  The biggest way to help Jake with his speech is to speak to him normally.  He understands EVERYTHING you are saying to him.  More than anything, we just want Jake to have the same opportunities as any other child, we want him to be included, and we want him to learn good behaviors and fun things from the kids around him.  We purposely choose to pull Jake out of the school district and put him in West Side Preschool because we feel that the social interactions he gets from his typical peers is so incredibly important to his growth and development.  In the past year we have noticed that he is learning to play with toys appropriately (pushing trucks, building with blocks, pretend play with kitchen sets).  We have also noticed that he is following basic 1-3 step requests more frequently, and is establishing lots of small routines.  We firmly believe he has picked up these AWESOME habits from watching and doing what his typical friends are doing.  Every once in a while (especially at the beginning of the school year) Jake will get overwhelmed, or over stimulated & will need to take a walk.  We are so grateful to have Emily by his side to help him out.  You might notice that Jake does things a little different in class.  Our goal for Jake this year is to get him prepared for Kindergarten next year.  Sometimes we have to be creative about how to get things done.

If your child asks what is “different” about Jake (it’s ok, kids are honest & speak what they see), a simple explanation is that Jake has Down syndrome, which means that sometimes things take him a little bit longer.  Like learning to walk, talk, and color.  You can also explain to your child that we are all different.  That we have different hair color, eye color, height, and weight.  These are all the differences that make us special and unique.  There is only 1 you!  Yesterday I overheard a little boy at the park ask his mom why Jake looks different & she simply explained, “that is the way God made him”.  The little boy said, “cool” and they ran off to play. 

If you have any questions, we are always happy to answer them.  Please don’t ever hesitate to pull us aside.  If you are more comfortable chatting thru e mail or text, that is great too.  Like most people, we knew very little about Down syndrome before Jake came into our world.  We learn something new about it and about him every day.  We have some great books that we would be happy to lend to you about Down syndrome, if you would like or there is a great You Tube video called Down Syndrome 101-UDSF that very simply explains what Down syndrome is.  It completely lifted the fog for our 10 year old daughter, it’s that basic!

Happy 2015-2016 School Year
Julie & Zach Gould


I also added a super cute pic of Jake.
Wow...that entire post was wordy...but I need to add a few more words...I need to acknowledge some people who have changed our world and become our friends.

Sonia (Jake's speech therapist in the school district): YOU ROCK.  When we felt completely let down by the school district you came into our lives.  It is so obvious you love what you do and the people you work with.  We want you to know that we recognize how above & beyond you go for your students, & we appreciate you.

Patty P. & Krista (Jake's teacher & aid last year): Like Sonia, YOU ROCK.  You two will never know how much you lifted our family up by loving & accepting Jake.  More than his teachers, you became our friends & helped us realize that there is ALWAYS a alternative.  You are appreciated.

Patty G. & Emily (Jake's teacher & aid this year):  I have complete faith that you guys too...ROCK!  ;)  As you can tell from this very wordy post, I am excited & grateful for everything you guys are doing for Jake & our family this year.  We look forward to amazing things!  You are appreciated.

KidSPOT crew (Jake's PT/OT & Speech therapist outside of RSD): You guys know YOU ROCK, but just in case you forgot...YOU ROCK.  You guys have been with Jake longer than anyone (& you still let us come back every week).  We don't see you guys as "Jake's therapists"...we see you as our friends, who happen to be awesome therapists.  Jennifer, when Jake pops his "tude" with you, it's because he loves you!  ;)  We appreciate ALL of you!

So, put ALL of these people together in 1 little boys life & watch out!  Good things are happening friends!