Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Graduation Day

Perspective. It's an important thing.

Last night, our darling daughter took part in her kindergarten graduation with her classmates -- the class of 2026. It was a cute little program, with music and diplomas, family and friends, and lots of smiles and laughter.
Natalie is just like any other kid...she loves music and noise. But she's unlike most kids at her graduation, because she has cerebral palsy and is bound to her wheelchair.
Growing up, I remember one child in my school who had cerebral palsy. We didn't see much of him, except in the hallways. He spent most of his days in the resource room with some wonderful teachers and therapists.

My, how the times have changed. If there is one word that describes Natalie's school experience, it's this: inclusion.
Natalie, receiving her kindergarten diploma from her classroom teacher, Mrs. Nelson
Yes, Natalie spends lots of time in the resource room with her therapists, but she's also spending time with her classmates, playing games and painting pictures. Her friends help her learn by encouraging her to press her "switch." A switch is a big button with pre-recorded commands, like "knock it down!" The kids build up a tower of blocks, then Natalie is encouraged to hit the switch and "tell" the kids to knock the tower down.

She has adaptive physical education with her buddy, Nick. Nick helps her play the games that the other kids are playing in P.E. Nick recently told me that the kids used to talk to him when they wanted to throw the ball to they've started to direct their words to Natalie, letting her know they want to throw the ball to her.

Natalie loves this, but more importantly, her classmates are learning that even though Natalie can't talk, she wants to play with them. They're learning compassion, just as Natalie's brothers are learning it.

In this world, I don't think there's a single more important thing to learn than compassion. Natalie has taught me this. It's a humbling experience to be the parent of a handicapped child. No one will ever understand that until it happens to them.
Natalie, with her resource room teacher, LeAnn (left), and her para, Christy (right).
First day of kindergarten
It's given me a different perspective on life. Now I look back and wish that that little boy in my school had been a bigger part of our every day schedule.

That's the wonderful thing about the world in which Natalie is growing up. A handicapped child isn't to be kept from others, she is to be included in every way possible.