As summer comes to a close, and the start of school gets closer and closer, I can’t help but start to worry. Let me share some perspective—I have five daughters; three of them will start school in the fall, and my oldest has Down syndrome. So while it’s all fun and excitement for my soon-to-be kindergartener and second grader, it’s stress and worry for my third grader. 

How will she adapt to her new teacher? Will kids be nice to her? Will she feel comfortable with the schedule—or like last year, refuse to come in from the playground after recess for what felt like weeks? Will they see her potential? Will they set the bar high enough and ensure she’s held accountable during her core classes?

The other huge question mark for parents who have kiddos with extra needs is—who will their paraprofessional be? While Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) allow for the use of a para, parents have little to no influence on who that person will actually be—or how often they will rotate among other students.

As a “Type A” person, this causes my heart to skip a beat. This is the person who will work with my child the closest. This is the one helping to break down the lesson plan and explaining it as they wade through what feels like a never-ending assignment. This is the person holding my child accountable when she skips over words while she is reading a passage. This is the person who makes sure sloppy handwriting is addressed and tells my child she knows she can do better. This is the person encouraging my child to keep going when she is frustrated with a math worksheet. This is the person who ensures her glasses aren’t lost. This is the person who spends those extra minutes buttoning up my daughter’s coat and making sure her gloves and hat are on when they go outside during a cold recess. This is the person who helps my child in the bathroom. This is the person who ensures my child isn’t exposed to gluten, as it will make her violently ill. This is the person who has an innate connection to my child and can talk them through any situation in which they are sad, scared, overwhelmed or grouchy.

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So, to every para out there—please know the unbelievably important role you play in a child’s educational path. Understand that although they may be insanely stubborn on a daily basis, they talk about how much they love you when they come home from school. We have an incredible amount of faith in your ability to help our child navigate through the school day. So while I’m sure there are days you wonder if you are actually making a difference—please know that you absolutely are.

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Shauna Graham

I married my high school sweetheart and I'm a mother to five amazing daughters.  If I'm not trying to juggle my children's activities or working full time, I enjoy spending time with my husband, writing, watching pretty much any sport besides golf (I know - I just can't) or advocating for Down syndrome.