By Amanda Brunning, TLC Preschool Teacher & Parent
I have been working with and teaching children with special needs and their families for the past eight years. I have been through many emotional roller coasters with parents and have been a part of many conversations where parents just needed to vent and I was happy to listen. I tried to be as much help as I could, but before becoming a parent myself, my view was limited and I couldn't say that I knew what it was like to parent a child with a disability full time.
Teachers in early childhood have kids from four to eight hours a day before they go home and we're off duty. We work with the children in a controlled setting and on a consistent schedule. We have extensive training and on-hand tools that we can draw from and utilize when a child is having a hard time. Life outside the classroom - with families, in public places - is very different and far more unpredictable than classroom life. As a teacher, I have preparation and immediate assistance for handling trying situations and behavior on top of my primary job of helping teach children educational skills and positive social behaviors, but when a person becomes a parent, there's very little preparation for the next 18+ years of caring for and raising children of any ability. Children don't come with handbooks, and parents have to learn as they go.
My husband and I had been going through the adoption process for several years, and nine months ago we were matched and placed with a 7-month-old little boy with Down syndrome. I would love to say - with all of my experience and degree in early childhood and special education - that I was prepared. In truth, I did not feel prepared at all. I knew that this beautiful little boy would need pediatric therapies and that TLC would be the perfect away-from-home-home for him when I went back to work, and that the therapists would work with him both at our house and in the TLC infant nursery, and that was a huge relief when I felt overwhelmed. I was so thankful for all the help from my co-workers in getting his therapies and early interventions in place and for helping the process of transitioning our son into our home go as smoothly as possible.
After he arrived, every day was a new experience and a new visit to a new doctor. In the first few months of having our little boy we saw so many different doctors and with each doctor we felt overwhelmed at what this new doctor could say or what that visit could bring. His therapist became my go-to when I was unsure what advice to take, what direction to go, or when I was trying to figure out if something going on with him was normal for his diagnosis, or when I needed guidance on what I needed to do to help him grow and develop. His infant teacher at TLC is my other go-to when I have a parenting/infant question, and I no doubt ask her a million questions a day. Debbie (the TLC infant teacher) has also listened to me vent about everything from difficulties getting him to sleep to doctors appointments that we came away with no answers or nerves about surgery. These people have become part of our support system and we are so thankful for them. In stepping into the role of parent of a child with special needs, I'm finally getting to walk in the shoes of the parents of kiddos I've worked with throughout the years, and I feel even more connected to them and struggles that come with parenting young children.
Switching hats to the parent roll has opened my eyes to so much of what families with children with special needs can be going through. I hope that my new roll as this beautiful little boy's mommy can help me grow as a teacher and better support the children and families better that come into my classroom.
Through all the struggles, the late nights, spit ups, and parade of questions, I wouldn't change a thing, and I'm so grateful to my TLC support group.