Mainstreaming—including children with special needs in a typical classroom—is something we think about regularly, despite Hope’s young age. We think about when we will introduce her to our town’s public school system, and we worry about how well she will be able to communicate with her peers. We fear potential mistreatment by other children and their parents. We wonder whether her teachers will expect as much from her as we do.
What we hadn’t considered is the fact that we, my husband and I, also need to be mainstreamed. We have friends with children, some even around Hope’s age, but most of our energy has been spent on getting to know other babies with DS and their families. Making these connections has been invaluable, and the environment is a safe one, where we understand each other’s joys and pains without having to say a word.
But this won’t be our reality forever. Knowing this, and understanding that all babies with and without DS develop in their own time, we signed up for a weekly music class for babies aged 6 to 12 months. Hope had some exposure to a class setting during a 5-week sign language instruction this summer, and she loved it, so I figured this could be perfect for her.
We arrived at music class a few minutes early to meet a smiling teacher and five other babies and their mamas. Some of the babies were crawling around. Some were eager to shake the musical shakers placed in the middle of the floor. Some were bringing the shakers to their mouths and gnawing on them. The immense pride I brought with us in knowing that Hope would be sitting independently for class was obliterated as soon as I realized that this would be a given skill for other babies in this age group. I’d somehow forgotten that…
I showed Hope the shakers, placing one in her hand, knowing full well she wouldn’t hold it but trying anyway to somehow explain through action that my baby could hold a shaker as well as any other baby—she was just choosing not to. Hope sat there smiling, taking in the room, watching everyone sing, and checking in with me to make sure I was still there beside her.
Then the water bottles full of sequins were passed around. Again, all of the babies grabbed their bottles with two hands, some gnawing on them, some shaking them. And again, I placed Hope’s hands around the bottle to show her how pretty the sequins were inside, but she forced her hands off of it. I reverted to a rattle, which Hope shook for a few seconds before losing her grip.
We were being lapped, and I wondered what on earth I was thinking when I decided to break away from DS-tailored classes. We were sitting in a room full of fun, uplifting music, smiles all around, yet I was fighting to keep the sick feeling in my gut from manifesting into tears.
But then out came the scarves. And the bubbles. And the dog puppet. Hope participated in everything! She loves holding fabric, so playing peek-a-boo with a sheer scarf was so much fun for her. The bubbles were mesmerizing, even if she wasn’t grabbing at them like the other babies were. And when it came time to meet Rex, the dog puppet, she was screaming with excitement, waiting patiently for her turn to pet him.
Not once during class was Hope unhappy. She didn’t care that she was the only one not shaking the shakers, and she was perfectly content to sit in one spot for 45 minutes to enjoy all of the sounds and smiles around her. So what was I so upset about?
And suddenly it clicked: Hope doesn’t know she needs extra help. As far as she knows, all babies go to PT and OT, and all babies have a therapist come to the house to “play.” She’s happy with her development, and we can be as proud of her out in the world as we are at home. I’m sure that over the years, our family will grow some tougher skin. Until then, may we never settle.