October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month! All month long, through October 31, when you come to KidSnips for a full-price haircut Monday through Friday, we’ll donate $1 to Gigi’s Playhouse—a network of achievement centers providing free programming and support for people with Down syndrome and their families.
This summer before school started, a friend and I sat down for a Zoom coffee date. We live in different cities, but we still enjoy the opportunity to see each other “face-to-face.” We unwind, share stories about our work and our families, and all the things we feel passionate about that make up our lives. As we chatted, the conversation turned toward the upcoming school year.
“Where’s Nova going to school this year?” she asked me.
Nova, otherwise known as “Supernova,” is my daughter, and she was born with Down syndrome. She’s graced with an extra chromosome, and her extra chromosome has given the family the unique opportunity to continually embrace the everyday the same way she does—with innocence, curiosity, and joy.
“I don’t know yet,” I said, my voice laced with uncertainty.
We were on a waitlist at several charter schools in the area because I knew those schools practiced a model of inclusion in the classroom. The school we were zoned for, which was an otherwise excellent school, did not. Research shows that all students, not just those with disabilities, benefit from an inclusive learning environment. Not only does learning grow, but empathy does, too. And as a mother, I especially want my daughter to experience a sense of belonging.
“I want to serve as an advocate in the local school system for inclusion,” I told my friend, “But at the end of the day, I’m not sure I have the time or energy.” It was hard to admit, but that was the truth.
“You aren’t in this alone,” my friend reassured me.
We continued to talk, and her gentle reminder of support helped me that day more than she probably knew.
As parents we often feel like we are on our own, like we have to manage everything by ourselves. And that can leave us feeling overwhelmed and even lonely. If you’re a parent of a child with special needs, that feeling can be even more intense.
The truth is, like the famous song by Bill Withers says, as parents, “we all need each other to lean on.”
So, what are some ways you can create a greater sense of community with other families and help parents of kids with Down syndrome in particular feel like they aren’t alone?
Here are 3 simple ideas on how you can do that – and none of them require a lot of extra time or energy on your part – because none of us have any of that to spare! And the added benefit is that each of these ideas, while they can provide support for parents with special needs kids, can also support you and your family – and help you feel less alone, and more like you’re a part of a community.
1. Grow your family circle
Remember when you brought your baby into the world? I hope you were surrounded by loving friends and family who offered to bring meals, showered you with gifts, and maybe you even experienced that gem-of-a-person who offered to clean your toilet if you needed it. What if we continued to support one another long after those first few months of our children’s lives?
We can. It’s as easy as gathering a few friends, including a family with a child who has special needs of some kind, and organizing a meal share for those busy school weeknights. You and another family or two or three could take turns hosting a meal each week – so every parent gets a night off from meal planning/prep and clean up now and then. Even spaghetti from a box and sauce from a jar taste better when it’s shared.
Or what about starting a babysitting co-op for that coveted night out? What about a carpool? Carpooling to school or community events can provide bonding time between the kids, while also giving another parent a load off. And, if you have a friend whose child has an IEP (individualized education plan), try to check-in with your friend on IEP meeting day. Those meetings are often long and tough, so your friend will probably be grateful you asked.
2. Read something new
Have a book club? Consider reading a memoir written by the parent of a child with Down syndrome. Expecting Adam: A True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic might be a good one to start with.
How about calling your local independent bookstore or library to request they order a book or two that will increase understanding of kids with special needs? These resources can be so valuable, and a call can help inform the bookstore or library of community interest when they consider future orders. Books like My Friend Isabelle, We’ll Paint the Octopus Red, or Far From the Tree are great choices. Stories are such a powerful way to increase knowledge and empathy, for both adults and children alike.
3. Expand your horizons
If you want to raise great kids (and who among us doesn’t?), if you want to help them be more open to differences, more kind and empathetic and giving, one of the best ways to do that is to volunteer. Does your local community have a Down syndrome organization? You can find out, here. You and your kids might volunteer for a Buddy Walk. Or you could help welcome new babies with Down syndrome and their parents into the community. Or get engaged in policy and advocacy work in the school system — creating a world that’s more accessible for some, really does mean it’s more accessible for us all.
One great place you can volunteer is at Gigi’s Playhouse. Gigi’s Playhouse is the best and there truly is nothing else like it. (And this nationwide organization began in Chicago. How great is that!) The atmosphere is warm, welcoming, and fun, and you can’t help but feel your spirits lifted when you walk through those doors. You can be a part of their mission to change the world through acceptance, purposeful engagement, and celebration of people with Down syndrome and all the light and love they bring to the world. (If you don’t quite have time to volunteer, your teenager or college student might consider it for school credit.)
Also, remember, by bringing your child in for a full-price, weekday haircut at KidSnips in the month of October, you’re helping support Gigi’s Playhouse. This month, we’re donating $1 for each weekday haircut to Gigi’s Playhouse ($1 donation with any full-price weekday haircut will be made to this charity through October 31, 2022. Not valid with any other offers).
By the way, if you’re a parent of a child with special needs, you should know that KidSnips’ stylists have been specially trained to work with kids with Down syndrome and Autism, and with any kiddos who might need just a little extra love to help them feel comfortable and welcome. If you’ve ever struggled to wash or brush your wiggly (i.e. very resistant!) child’s hair, never fear! KidSnips is proud that their stylists have been coached to work with children with special needs because everyone deserves to look and feel special and beautiful with a stylish haircut from an experienced hair professional. KidSnips even has a free downloadable booklet to help prepare your child for what they can expect when they’re getting their hair cut. Of courses if you have any questions or concerns about that, don’t hesitate to call your local KidSnips.
Jasmin Pittman Morrell, our guest blogger, is an award-winning writer and storyteller who believes in using the power of the imagination to build stories that dignify, liberate, and heal. In Asheville, NC where she lives, she sits on the board of Story Parlor, a cooperative arts space that nurtures expression, experience, and mindfulness. She SO wishes there was a KidSnips location nearby!