|Every one saying hello to Nina!|
On Wednesday, September 1, 2010 Nina did what she had been dreaming about for the past 2 years....she went to kindergarten. The first words out of her mouth on Wednesday morning were, "I'm so excited to go to kindergarten!" She picked out her dress and shoes and allowed me to comb her hair thoroughly, which for us is a really big deal :)
We decided to pick Wednesday as her first day because her treatment was scheduled very early. If everything went according to plan then Nina would be able to attend the last hour of kindergarten. Immediately after radiation, Eileen drove us to Kellogg Elementary. Nina began to whimper and said she was scared. I reassured her that I would be with her the entire time!
At first, I had been reticent about sending Nina to school. I was worried about how the other kids would respond (many of them had gone to preschool with her) and how the progression of her diagnosis would impact them. Mrs. Knight (the principal) and Mrs. Detrich (the teacher) assured me that Nina was welcome and that it was important for us to do this for her given how long she had waited for this moment. Todd agreed and so we proceeded.
|Mrs. Detrich getting Nina ready for her 1st day of school photo!|
We signed in at the front office and just by luck found her classmates walking from lunch to the playground for recess. We joined the line, put our backpack away and followed the rest of the kids to the playground. To say that her classmates and peers were delightful does not do justice. Her peers were incredibly blessing and made Nina's first day of kindergarten the most amazing day ever!!!
Because of the work I do with kids with autism, I have always been a huge proponent of inclusion. Not only is it important for kids with ASD to have peer models for appropriate communication, socialization, and behavior, I believe it is equally important for typically developing kids to learn to love, interact and support any friend, irrespective of disability, label, race, creed, gender or socio-economic status. However, all of my experience with inclusion has been through the lens of the professional. Normally, I'm there to support the student, parent, and teachers. However, this time the roles were reversed. I was not in the professional's seat but in the parent's seat. Everything was different but so familiar.
Albeit Nina does not have a disability like ASD, the experiences we are having with her developmentally, adaptively, emotionally are very parallel. She is not the same Nina that went on play dates, took swim lessons, and started playing the piano a month ago. She was different and all of her old friends immediately recognized this. But the beauty of children is that they adapt to differences way more easily than adults. Even though it was blaringly obvious that Nina was different they welcomed her any way. Her old friends showed her around, talked to her, and didn't get upset or discouraged when she did not respond (which was 95% of the time!).
At one point, Nina's buddy Ryder turned to me and said, "I wish Nina could talk like her old self!" My heart sank. Nina had a huge crush on Ryder all of last year. He wrote her notes with stickers and put them in her cubby. In fact, just the previous day he had sent her a get-well card and drawing. I will never forget the afternoon when Nina confessed her interest in Ryder. We were walking from her preschool to Kellogg to pick up Teddy. As were were walking she turned to me and said, "Ryder has a great nose. He's also got great hair and nice clothes! I really like playing with him mom!" She was so sweet it melted my heart. I immediately texted Todd with the story but it had a slightly different impact on him :) Unfortunately, the story didn't melt Todd's heart it just made it panic and he enthusiastically reminded me that she wasn't allowed to date until she was 30: )
Well, sweet Ryder knew something was different and he lamented that his friend couldn't play spy like she had done so many times during preschool. Despite being sad and even disappointed, Ryder was an angel. At one point he spontaneously took Nina by the hand and walked with her back to the classroom, reassuring her that everything was alright. My heart sang for joy and it took all of my will power to not burst into tears of happiness.
As if all the sweetness of seeing old friends and meeting new ones was not enough, it as Flag Salute Wednesday, which meant the entire school met out in the quad. I was so happy when Teddy noticed his sister in the kindergarten area and waved to her with the most sincere love and pride a brother could have!! Our neighbors, Cami and Katie also noticed Nina and waved. I knew right then and there that we had made the right decision, not just for Nina but for Teddy and all of the other kids who love Nina. For a tiny bit, Nina was a member of Kellogg elementary and her brother will always remember that!!!
When we first found out about the diagnosis, lots of ideas of fancy vacations were thrown around. But because of this day of inclusion, I learned that simplicity is most definitely sweeter and more meaningful. We didn't have to go any where fancy to make Nina happy. We just brought her to school and had her be a part of a most beloved community!!! Go bulldogs!!!
|The happiest kindergarten girl ever!!|