How long does it take you to complete a jigsaw puzzle? For me, you can say, my jigsaw puzzle has taken five years. My puzzle has been very complicated and I didn’t have a box to guide me on what the picture would look like when completed. I am not the kind of person who likes jigsaw puzzles, but you could say, I feel accomplished in completing my first and know the next one is ready to begin. I am full of excitement, enthusiasm and optimism.
Five years ago, Alyssa started preschool. The preschool she went to is situated at the Elementary she attends. For three years, she attended this preschool, right along with her age appropriate peers. During this time, I began the process of learning how to advocate for her education. I did research, went to trainings offered in our state about inclusion, and learned about IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Those first few years, for me, were much like laying out all the pieces to a jigsaw puzzle… it was totally overwhelming and difficult to know where to begin, not even thinking about the results to come.
The key to putting a jigsaw puzzle together is to jump in and get started. The pieces are not numbered; you just keep making attempts to fit the pieces together, until you are able to successfully find pieces that link. If you put two pieces together and it doesn’t work, you just keep trying. The final outcome is littered with a feeling of accomplishment and often the picture displayed is incredibly beautiful.
Two years ago, the hardest part of advocating for Alyssa presented itself. Alyssa was preparing to go into Kindergarten. The school had a program separate from general education, where Kindergarteners through fifth graders, with significant needs, were placed. I knew from the beginning of preschool, Alyssa was not going to be in that separate class. I didn’t know how I was going to make this happen, I just knew, she was meant to be amongst her peers, her future friends, in a regular classroom. At one point, I was told, the separate class was the “best” place for Alyssa. Well, let’s just say, I didn’t agree. (I smiled to myself, as I wrote that last sentence.)
At one point last year, the principal shared his view of the future with our team. I wrote down what he said because it was so exciting to me and I didn’t want to get his words wrong later. He shared how much he appreciated our team, as they were all a part of the stepping stones, to a future, where other children, with special learning needs, would be able to follow, in Alyssa’s footsteps. He shared his enthusiasm and his dedication. This day felt like the turning point of our puzzle, where we could see the picture coming together.
We had our first meeting of the year just the other day. Puzzle nearly complete!!! I am overjoyed. The goal for the school is to have all the children, who have special needs, be able to participate in their general education classrooms with their age appropriate peers, as much as possible. I am so thankful for the people who “want” to be a part of the change and a part of making a difference for the kids. The pave work is being laid, and it’s only a matter of time before the entire world can start believing in children with disabilities... or as I say... children with abilities.
The final piece to the puzzle was laid over this past weekend. Alyssa was invited to attend, not one, but two birthday parties, for a couple of her friends. She had a blast and she is happy. Her friends rule! We are blessed and thankful.
To all those families who advocate for their children… keep believing, trying and loving. God has a hand in this and He has awesome plans.
Thank you for reading and have a great week. Angie