Part Two: Abby Takes on Preschool
Read Abby's initial story!
Six months ago, our beautiful daughter Abby, who has Down Syndrome, turned three years old.
She had just started walking and becoming more independent, but I was so worried about her in-home therapies ending and having to decide whether we should send her to preschool or not. I was pretty convinced that she was not emotionally ready for preschool.
I reasoned that none of my other children would go to preschool the day after their third birthday, so why would I send Abby, who was already developmentally behind? I was up at night, tossing and turning and worrying about sending my beautiful, sensitive, gentle little girl out into the big world. I kept insisting that SHE wasn't ready, even though others said maybe it was me who was not ready to let her go. I was so torn because in my years of parenting, I had always thought that my instincts would tell what was best for my children. I thought I would always just "know" what was right.
In this case, I just didn't know. I knew that Abby, who had been happy and cooperative for her therapists that came into our home, was now beginning to give them a hard time. She would run away or twist and turn in her chair, reaching for me. She was still her usual sweet self, but she really seemed to have outgrown this arrangement. It was as if she knew that mommy was there to rescue her and she didn't really have to do anything she didn't feel like doing. That made me think, she must be ready for the next thing. But she also still cried every time I left her at home with her Grandma and brother and sister to go out for a short time. Her Grandma had been babysitting for her since she was a baby. She would even stand at the front door when I went out to get the mail and cry for mommy. How could I leave her in a strange place with people she didn't know and think she was going to be okay??!!
My husband and I went to the IEP meeting on that day in February with the thought that she would not be starting preschool until the following fall. We left with her enrolled in preschool and ready to start the next week for two days a week.
We were so impressed by the teacher and the therapists that would be working with Abby. They described the wonderful program they have and the kinds of things Abby would be doing. Their warm and caring way made me feel so much more comfortable putting Abby in their hands. They made us feel so welcome and helped us to see that it wouldn't hurt to give Abby a chance at preschool. If she didn't seem ready, we could pull her out, although they were quick to point out that they have almost never seen a case like that. They joked that in a week, I would be asking to increase the number of days she would attend. I was still nervous, but willing to give it a try. I asked to come and observe one day before she started.
I watched the children during circle time as they did the calendar, alphabet, numbers, and other activities. I left in tears thinking there is no way that Abby could do what they were doing. I am thrilled to say that I was wrong. Abby started two days a week in preschool. She came home every day with a new word or skill. Her vocabulary and language skills exploded, and we were all amazed. She came out of her shell and began trying to communicate more. She would proudly beam while she showed us the papers and art projects she did at school. We had a very short adjustment period of about one week where she cried each morning. The teacher at the IEP meeting was right though, about three weeks she started school, I called to ask if we could increase her days at school from two days a week to three.
In the fall, Abby will attend preschool four half-days per week. The van driver picks her up at our house and brings her home after school. That was another milestone and something I said I would never do! But she looks forward to Miss Ellen picking her up. They sing and dance in the car and she is as happy as can be.
I learned a great lesson through all of this, and that is to give Abby a chance. I want to protect her, I want to keep her close, but sometimes that is for me and it's not what is always in her best interest. I want Abby to be happy and feel safe and secure and loved. The wonderful lesson I learned through all of this is that she can feel that way at school and at home.
Amy Q., Abby's mom
This story first appeared on PA's Promise for Children in 2010.