Returning to school each fall is a time of both excitement and nervousness for parents and students. For parents who have a child with special needs, this time of year can bring increased anxiety and stress.
We worry about all the same things most parents worry about like how will my child do in school? Will they have friends? Who will they eat lunch with or play with at recess? We also have other worries, like, will my child be able to communicate his or her needs? Will my child be made fun of because they look or sound different from other children? Will my child be able to independently use the restroom? Will my child get sick or have an allergic reaction at school?”
When our son Joey, who has Down syndrome, first started school I would make an “All About Me” book for each of his teachers, therapists and even bus drivers. This was a spiral bound notebook that explained his medical, social and emotional needs and provided a little bit of context and background about Joey. The past two years I have shortened this book down to what I call “Joey’s Resume.”
“CVs are a wonderful tool to introduce yourself to the world – to organize your skills and strengths, communicate your areas of need and growth, and tell your story,” said Dr. Katrina Lindsay, director of the School Success Clinic at Akron Children’s Hospital. “Often, this is the first item that an employer has to get the “big picture” of who you are. Recently, this same tool has been used for children with individualized needs entering the school year.”
All of his teachers, aides and therapists have a copy of his IEP each year, but if you have ever read an IEP you know how difficult they can be to read and how long they are. We designed Joey’s Resume to be a quick one-page information sheet that provides some helpful tips and highlights Joey’s strengths. When you have a child with a learning or physical disability, it is easy for people to focus on what your child is unable to do. We wanted to shift that focus and help educate people on what Joey is able to do and what we expect him to do at school.
Dr. Lindsay says this snapshot of your child can help teachers quickly come to terms with what they can do to help your child have a smooth start to school.
“While a resume should not replace a legally binding document such as an IEP or Section 504, it may be a great way for teachers to get to know your child before they even enter into the school building,” said Dr. Lindsay. “This could be a particularly excellent tool for children entering a new district or building, for children who may not readily communicate this information verbally, such as children with language needs, children on the autism spectrum or children with anxiety.
“A resume could potentially help teachers further individualize effective behavior plans, reward systems, and use the child’s strengths to build upon areas that are hard for them,” said Lindsay. “If your child is developmentally able, it may even be a neat activity to do together, as writing a resume is an essential skill for entering the workforce.”
I include our phone number and address on each resume and then I put in 5 categories that include:
- My Strengths
- Health & Wellness
- What Works
- I Love
- I’m Working On
Dr. Lindsay said she loves the positive focus of Joey’s resume and recommends parents remember to include strengths and not just weaknesses.
“By organizing Joey’s strengths into one cohesive document and letter to share, this gives his class a better understanding of who he is, and all the wonderful things about him beyond what he is diagnosed with,” said Dr. Lindsay. “For children who may be reticent or unable to socially and verbally share about themselves, a written document collaboratively developed with the child could potentially serve as a springboard to identifying other students with similar interests and skills.”
We thought that this would be a quick and accessible means for people who will interact with Joey to have a better idea of what kind of learner and what kind of communicator he is. The entire resume is very positive and we hope it gives a quick snapshot of him as an entire person so the focus isn’t just on him having Down syndrome and learning disabilities.
Once his resume is ready to go I make about 30 copies of it and give it to every teacher (including gym, art, music, library, etc.), aide, bus driver, principal, therapist, cafeteria employees and custodians. Our hope is that his resume will take away any fears or unknowns that anyone during the school day might have if they are not familiar working with a child with a disability.
The merits of mainstreaming
“Mainstreaming has become an essential component to public education today,” said Lindsay. “It promotes the opportunity for children with disabilities and their peers to collaboratively learn together, providing both structured and unstructured opportunities for all children to engage with one another. Mainstreaming reiterates that children have more in common that their differences.”
One of the challenges of mainstreaming is making sure your child’s peers understand what makes your child unique. This year we added another element and we wrote a class letter to Joey’s peers and parents in his typical second grade classroom. He spends about 60 percent of his day in the resource room working on intense learning and one on one instruction and about 40 percent of the day in a typical second grade classroom.
It was around this age that our oldest son, Tommy, started to ask more questions about what Joey has and what Down syndrome is. We wrote a short three paragraph letter introducing Joey and talking a little about what Down syndrome is and offering to answer any questions students or parents may have. I ended it by saying that just because Joey has Down syndrome does not mean that he doesn’t understand the other kids or doesn’t want to play with them- it just means that sometimes things might take him a little longer, but the best part of his day is going to school and being with friends just like any other classmate.
When we met with Joey’s resource room teacher and his 2nd grade teacher at Richfield Elementary School last week, we gave them his resume to distribute and the class letter and they were really happy. One teacher said she could use a resume for every one of her students.
After sharing it on Facebook, I heard from many moms who wanted to do the same for their child and I have been emailing the documents out to help other families create their child’s resume.
Every parent wants their child to have a successful and happy school experience. With a little creativity, we can help prepare the school community for just how much our kids with disabilities can knock their socks off!