“I’m a Lot Like You”
In a letter to her son’s kindergarten class, a ghost-writing mom explains what it means to be adopted and to have cerebral palsy.by Jenni Colson
When their child goes to school for the first time, parents experience a range of emotions worthy of a greeting card commercial: excitement, apprehension, anticipation, sadness. And if their child has special needs, his parents have special concerns. Will their child fit in? How will his classmates react? How can we prepare his teacher?
Our 5-year-old, Quin, begins kindergarten in August. Some of his special needs are extremely noticeable. Due to cerebral palsy, Quin wears leg braces and walks with an awkward gait, and his speech can be hard to understand. Some of his other hardships are less apparent, though they impact him academically and socially. Quin spent his first four years in a Korean orphanage, so English is his second language.
So far, Quin’s only classroom experience has been at Sunday school. His teachers and classmates there followed our adoption journey and eagerly anticipated his arrival. Quin’s teachers are familiar with his needs, and he receives glowing reports every week.
Kindergarten will be different. Neither the teachers nor the students know Quin, and my husband and I won’t be there if problems arise. I want Quin’s classmates to understand why he looks, talks, and acts different. Providing information about cerebral palsy and older-child adoption seems like the way to do that. Since children are more accepting of things they understand, I hope that a little information will foster a lot of tolerance. I’d like to highlight Quin’s strengths and show that he’s a regular kid.
With these goals in mind, I wrote this letter to send home with Quin’s kindergarten classmates on the first day of school. By presenting the issues, I hope to give parents information they need to answer the questions that their children bring home.
Surely, Quin’s first day of school will be a tearful day for me, but, armed with my stack of letters and a box of tissues, I’ll know that I’ve done what I can to smooth the way for my son.
Jenni Colson is a freelance writer and mom of three. She lives with her family in southern Michigan.
My name is Quin. I’m 5 years old and I’m a lot like you. I love pizza, baseball, fishing, Spiderman, and pirates. I like PlayStation and computer games. I am very brave, because I have to get shots in my legs, and because I work hard in therapy even when it hurts. I am also smart because I learned to speak English in just a few months!
I was born in Korea and I lived in an orphanage until I was 4 years old. Then I was adopted, which means that I now have a family of my very own. I am so happy to have a dad, a mom, a sister, and a brother. I like living in America, but things are different here. I’m still learning how kids act and behave. Sometimes I get frustrated because I can’t think of the words I want to say!
Another thing that is different about me is that I have CP, which stands for cerebral palsy. When my brain sends my muscles a message, the message gets mixed up, and my body doesn’t do what I want it to. CP doesn’t hurt, no one else can catch it, and it doesn’t get worse. In fact, I’m learning to do new things all the time!
When I stand, walk, or run, I might look different to you. But I am proud of how hard I have worked to learn these things! Did you see the braces on my legs? They have spaceships and aliens on them! My braces help me to walk better and to keep my balance. Sometimes I fall down, but don’t worry. I just get right back up and keep going.
When I have a long way to go, I use my blue walker. Then I can go really fast! When I have a very long way to go, I ride in my stroller. It’s pretty comfortable, and I bet it’s the biggest stroller you’ve ever seen!
I am very excited about kindergarten! I love to play on the playground and I can’t wait to learn to read. Maybe we’ll be good friends!
A note to parents:We all know that everyone is different, but some people’s differences are more visible than others. We hope this letter helps to explain some of our son’s differences in a simple way, since children will accept things they understand!
Thanks, and have a great year!
—Tom and Jenni Colson
Tips for Writing an Effective Letter to Your Child’s Classmates
- Write in your child’s voice. If she’s old enough, write the letter together.
- Use age-appropriate language. Stick with short sentences and simple words. Look through children’s books about adoption if you’re not sure of how to phrase things.
- Remember, there’s more to your child than her challenges. Share the things that make your child special, like her great cartwheels or creative drawings. Include stuff that her classmates can relate to. What kids doesn’t like pizza and movies?
- Be positive! The purpose of your letter is to portray your child’s challenges in a way that fosters acceptance, not pity.
- Don’t forget to address parents and welcome questions. You may also want to direct them to an informational Web site.
- Preserve your child’s privacy. Don’t offer any information that you haven’t shared with her. Remember, this information will follow your child throughout her school years.
- Include a picture of your child. It’s really worth a thousand words!
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