When our children are newly diagnosed with a developmental delay, physical disability or chronic health condition, we are often unaware of the community support we will find in unexpected places, or the support programs set up to provide the opportunities and accommodations that allow them to live up to their true potential. While many early intervention and family support or advocacy groups provide information and resources for newly diagnosed children, it is also important to be aware of opportunities available, as well as the abilities and accomplishments of adults with the same or similar diagnosis.
Community support for children with special needs is repaid many times over through the benefits that develop for every child in the community. Inclusion of babies, children and teens with Down syndrome or other developmental disabilities benefits their mainstream peers growing up with an understanding of the true diversity of our communities.
Something delightful that you may find if you take risks in putting yourself and your family into mainstream activities and programs is that there are already folks in your neighborhood and city who are welcoming and knowledgeable about disabilities and they have learned from unexpected potential other children with special needs have shown them.
Most of us were 'civilians' when our sons and daughters were diagnosed, or started to show the extent of their challenges. Many of us had little or no contact with children or adults with disabilities before our own children were welcomed into the world. We may have the same expectations of people we meet in our community, but many other families have loved ones who were born with or later revealed their own special needs, developmental delays or chronic health conditions.
Participating in local mommy and me classes, parks department programs, scouts or peewee sports leagues can introduce our children to mainstream peers who will be growing up with them and can be lifelong friends, neighbors and coworkers. Faith communities and local schools may offer programs designed to support and encourage children with disabilities along with their siblings, peers and children new to the community.
Social programs, sports, classes and events specifically for individuals with disabilities can help families build a network for advocacy and mutual support. Meeting older children, teens and adults with the same diagnosis gives parents and extended family a more realistic perspective on the potential, abilities, opportunities and accomplishments that are sometimes difficult to imagine during early childhood.
I hope that you find many wonderful neighbors and friends who will benefit from your family's participation in the community, and that you will be the delight of many families who do not yet know they will be welcoming a child with special needs into their lives. The greatest gift we can give our sons and daughters is the belief that they can do anything and be anyone they want to be, despite the challenges they may find in life. Many people who set near to impossible goals find that moving toward them opens up amazing possibilities, or looking back realize that they should have raised their own expectations when hard work and determination showed them greater opportunities. We all benefit from the support and celebration found in inclusive communities.
Browse at your public library, local bookstore or online retailer for books like The Guide to Good Health for Teens & Adults With Down Syndrome
or The Job Developer's Handbook