My name is Erika and I write over at the other lion about my son, Punkin, who has Fragile X Syndrome. Fragile X is a genetic condition that causes cognitive impairments, ADHD, autism, and sensory integration disorder. I have been working with children who have special needs, mostly in preschool, for over seven years. I wanted to write something personal today to illustrate what not to do.
So I had this sense of peace all school year because this summer I
didn't have to worry about where Punkin would go for his summer day
care; he would just go back to the program he attended last year. I
signed him up, gave them my check, and anxiously awaited telling him he
would be back with his summer friends. And then through a series of
meetings, phone calls, and more meetings, it was determined that Punkin
would not be able to attend this year; they simply felt unable to meet
his needs. I think they are wrong, and they know that, but it is what it
is and I began looking for something else.
settled on sending him to a well known, national center that
provides meals and some field trips. Before actually enrolling him, I
wanted to speak with the director to make sure the program would be
appropriate. I emailed, I called, I called again. I stopped in. Someone
called me back and told me to call a different person. I called that
person, who never called me. So I signed him up anyway.
big day came and I still hadn't received the additional forms I needed
for him, like health history and such, so I took him in early to pick
them up and help acclimate him to the new routine. His "classroom" was a
small, windowless room in the basement set up with tables and one rug
to play on. I saw one bookshelf that looked like it was about to crumble
under the weight of the wooden blocks it was holding and another piled
so haphazardly with books the entire pile would have spilled like a
Jenga game if one title was removed. It just didn't even seem clean.
A woman sat at a desk right inside the door and
greeted us, but didn't introduce herself. Another woman sat at a table
working with a few other children and said nothing at all. I took Punkin
over to the carpet to play with some Barbie cars, all three of which
were missing wheels.
We stayed for forty minutes and I
couldn't tell you even one staff member's name or relay anything any of
the staff said to my son directly; I had no idea who was in charge. In
that forty minutes, the kids just roamed around freely; there was no
structure. And after asking, I learned that this was typical of the
Punkin tried escaping multiple times. It
was time for me to go to work. I didn't know what to do. I knew I didn't
want to leave him there. Could he wait until someone picked him up in a
little bit? My heart sunk into my stomach. We left. I cried.
Sometimes the stress of it all comes bubbling over, and this was
one of those mornings. This was also a morning I felt extremely thankful
for friends and family who could take over and watch him (My mom will be with him from now on). Many, many
parents are forced to leave their children in places they don't love
because they have no support. I'm telling you, as a friend, one of the most precious
gifts you can give a family of a child with special needs is a play
date. As a teacher, one of the most precious gifts you can give a family is a sense of safety.
So what, as providers, can we do to welcome children and families into our classrooms?
1. Return phone calls.
Or write in notebooks, or send notes home. However you choose to communicate is fine, just do it.
2. Be Organized.
Hey, I work in the world's
tiniest classroom. No, really, I do. But it is bright, cheery, clean,
and organized -- even without windows. That's a post for another day.
3. Introduce yourself to parents and children.
Nothing shows more respect for a child than involving them in conversation.
4. Provide parents with a schedule of your day.
Maybe you can make up a new student packet with a handbook, a
list of basic supplies, and some classroom information such as your
daily schedule and the best ways to contact you.
How do you welcome new families?