October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, so at KidSnips, when you get a haircut any Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday this month, we’re donating $1 to GiGi’s Playhouse. This special guest blog is from Jasmin Morrell, a wonderful writer who also happens to be mom to Nova, a fun-loving, kind and creative kid with Down syndrome.
Circle time at my daughter Nova’s weekly preschool playgroup was always packed full of songs, counting games, crafts, and of course, the ABCs. I sat cross-legged on the carpet with Nova in my lap, scooting away from that sticky spot on the floor. (You know the spot I mean…it might be glue, it might be an ancient lollipop…who can tell? Stickiness just seems to go hand-in-hand with this whole parenting gig.)
We sang about the itsy-bitsy spider with our regular singing voices. We sang about the gigantic spider in our big, outdoor voices. And we sang about the teensy-weensy spider in our teeny-tiny voices.
No matter how many times we sang the song each week, the kids always giggled. We’ve all been there. Those moments when, no matter how many times you read the favorite book or sing the favorite song, you know you’d do it again. There’s nothing better than when your kid is happy and basking in the moment.
After we finished singing, it was time for the puppet show. The teacher enthusiastically invited all the children to move closer to the puppet theater. Most of the other kids scooted out of their parents’ laps and settled next to friends. Nova stayed put, as she did during every puppet show. Of course, I loved the opportunity to keep her snuggled near me. But I hoped that one day, she’d want to join some friends on the carpet.
Like most parents, I just wanted her to know she fit in, but I worried the others could only see my daughter’s differences.
Nova has Down syndrome, and though she might develop at a different rate than her peers, she still giggles when we sing in silly voices. She cries when another kid takes a toy from her. She loves the treat of a vanilla ice cream cone.
That day at playgroup, another little girl with soft brown curls smiled softly at Nova and held out her hand. They joined the rest of the kids to watch the puppet show, together.
Later, I discovered that little girl’s sibling also has special needs. “She’s very empathetic and aware,” her mother told me, “because she loves her brother and always wants to include him.”
No doubt about it, friends of all kinds make all our lives better and broaden our horizons. And if you’re a parent like me, you probably want to teach your child how to be a friend to other children…including kids that have something that makes them seem different.
And I’d love to grab a cup of coffee with you and chat about this sometime, and share, parent to parent, what I’ve learned about this along the way, by being Nova’s mom.
But since we can’t do that, I’ve written down five things I’ve discovered that seem to help. So, maybe just grab a cup of coffee wherever you are and read on.
Remember, a smile goes a long way.
Easy, right? When you’re on the playground or story time at the library, and you notice your child seems curious about another child, a smile and simple, “Hi, my name is _________,” can work wonders to break the ice. Staring is a natural response when kids are curious. But you can help by showing them how to treat people with Down syndrome just like anyone else—with kindness and respect.
Help kids notice similarities, not just differences.
An extra copy of the chromosome 21 might make kids with Down syndrome look or sound a little different. But as a parent of a child with Down syndrome, I wish everyone realized that my daughter’s emotions, capacity to learn, and ability to create are as full and rich as any other child’s. Does your kid like playing with trucks? Enjoy messy art? Love digging in the sandbox? Your child’s friend with Down syndrome probably does, too. As kids grow, keep encouraging them to practice inviting others into their play.
Read books or check out other resources.
The Global Down Syndrome Foundation is a great place to start. Following The Mighty on social media, or parenting blogs (like Cedar’s Story) about disability, will help give you insight into family life with special needs. And though it’s meant for siblings, the book, We’ll Paint the Octopus Red does a beautiful job explaining Down syndrome in a simple story.
Connect with local communities.
During Down Syndrome Awareness Month (or any month, really) what about putting aside some time to volunteer at a place like Gigi’s Playhouse, or get the whole family involved by taking part in a Buddy Walk. You’ll be sure to meet some awesome families and might make new friends! You’ll also be supporting some pretty amazing organizations and their missions to raise awareness through education and advocacy.
Get them a haircut.
No, seriously. Speaking of hanging out with all kinds of people, what better place to do that than at KidSnips? KidSnips stylists are trained to handle all kinds of wriggly, shy, or anxious-about-haircuts kiddos, including those with special needs.
Just like singing the itsy-bitsy spider, getting your child’s haircut is something you’ll do again and again. Why not do it in a place where their hair stylists actually love kids – all kinds of kids – and want everyone to walk away happy?
Not to mention, throughout Down Syndrome Awareness Month, KidSnips is donating $1 to the GiGi’s Playhouse for any haircut, any Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. This is a Chicago-born organization started by a mom, that’s dedicated to changing the way the world views Down syndrome and to send a global message of acceptance for all.