Public Day Care/Preschool
This is the time when I began cut my “bitch mother” teeth. I now understood that some people in our community would not support us in our quest to educate Mark. So, we set out to find those who would.
Generally, preschools for toddler age children have some requirements: potty trained, reasonably well-behaved, functional language skills, and some independent self help skills. Mark had none of those, plus he needed weekly speech and occupational therapy sessions. I met a few preschool directors who sympathized with us and were ultra kind as they declined the challenge. We knew this job was not for everyone, but it didn’t take too long to find directors who were enthusiastic about taking Mark on.
Those wonderful people are out there. Look for them. Find them. Hire them. The first thing everyone wanted to know was,” What special things should I do?” First, they were happy to have the therapists work with Mark in their living rooms, ( I know this was a welcome break for them as well!) Aside from using his basic signs, I insisted they do nothing special or different. EXPECT him to rise to your standards.” Their eyes would bug out, eyebrows shot up, and mouths would drop. Its amazing, I’d explain. Treat him like everyone else as much as you can. It just takes a long time for him to learn, then, he won’t forget.
Praise for Sunny, Kathy, Carol, Cindy, Mimi, and Little Friends Day School
By age five, Mark was an emerging independent entity. He had first hand knowledge of the preschooler’s working world. We had not just tried to prepare him with isolated therapies and isolated lessons. He learned in the real world what the real world expected of him. If he didn’t play fair, or took a toy from someone else, they cracked him over the head or wouldn’t play with him. If he didn’t use a sign or try a word for what the wanted, he didn’t get it; even from his playmates. He learned a day could be spent in time outs or practicing to communicate and cooperate. He got no sympathy from anyone for poor behavior or choices. He did receive sympathy at the end of a busy day for just trying to follow the rules.
It took tremendous effort for Mark to make his way through each day. He worked extra hard to comprehend the adults and playmates in his world. I was sleepless many nights with guilt about “working him too hard.” There were many people in my community who disapproved of our approach and thought we were asking too much from such a young child with so many delays and cognitive disabilities.
I always swung around to the facts about Helen Keller. Hell, if she could learn, so could Mark!
I know it worked because none of us knew what we were doing! We were willing to try everything we thought would teach Mark what he needed to know. A failed idea became a stepping-stone for another trial. No present manual or agency was strong enough to truly guide us or criticize us in the way we were teaching Mark. We were, however, on Annie Sullivan’s protocol for teaching learning impaired children. I recommended my teachers watch the 1939 version of the Miracle Worker with Anne Bancroft as Ann Sullivan teaching (Patty Duke’s) Helen Keller. I did not defend Mark’s impulsive, poor behaviors because I did not want my child to grow up that way. I usually defended my teachers and supported them with my condolences when they felt under qualified to teach Mark. I assured them they needed no special ed. diplomas or certificates to make them any better teachers than they were,… and to watch the Miracle Worker again for inspiration. It was the first of many years of Mark’s No Mercy program for Growing Up program.
How did we know we were doing the right things? These women, their assistants, and the other children they cared for, taught Mark everything he needed to know for kindergarten. Yes, the little preschoolers learned about Mark’s Down syndrome and how it made him the same and different. They were in on his little secret; and his strengths and weaknesses. He became more verbal, more mobile, more social, less impulsive and more independent in all self-help skills. Praise be leveled at these people whose very environment helped to potty train Mark between three and four! I sing praises for their cheerful classrooms, and cozy living rooms. I celebrate their daily support for me as a parent with a “different” child. I truly revere the commitment they showed us in Mark’s early education.
One day Mimi told me she would be teaching the kids about their hearts. Even though Mark was five, should she expect Mark to participate? Of course I told her, since he has one he should know about it. For the next few days, Mark kept uttering a new word. It was more of a chant, but I couldn’t make it out. Later that week, I asked Mimi if she knew what he was saying. “Oh yes”, she said proudly. She led Mark and I to a foot high plastic model of a human heart. He traced the arteries for me and placed my hand on his heart. “Flub dub” he said. He signed for me to listen to his heart as he said out loud, “Flub dub, flub, dub, flub dub.” It was a day to remember. Our beating hearts sang flub dub double time all the way home.