Preschool When Your Kid has a Disability

Preschool When Your Kid has a Disability


This month, I got the honor of speaking at an event for our twins’ former preschool (Sunset Christian Preschool). Since it’s the time of year where parents are enrolling kids in preschool, I want to share the story that I shared at the event because it’s always difficult to entrust your children with any caregivers, but when your child has a disability, the stakes are simply higher. 

Six years ago, our twin boys were born 3.5 months early. They weighed 1 lb. 10 oz. each and nothing in their start to lives has come easy.

My son Lex has since graduated from all early interventions and would be considered developmentally typical. As I say for Lochlan, he was given higher mountains to climb. Lochlan has cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, developmental delays and is still learning to walk. Navigating a world that was not built for people like Lochlan has had countless challenges and finding a preschool was no exception.

In Washington state, schools start in September and the twins are summer birthdays. I knew it would be a disservice to have them start kindergarten at barely 5-years-old when, technically, they weren’t supposed to be 5 until November. Because of their age, they were too old for developmental preschool, so we were left with the decision of whether to homeschool or find a private preschool school for a year. I knew that having them home would be a disservice to their development, so began the hunt for private preschool.

Lex would be fine at any school, but Lochlan required additional attention, energy and support. “Could a private preschool even support a kid who cannot walk or use a wheelchair?” I wondered. As one could imagine, I was filled with worry and anxieties as I began the search. I also wondered, “Will he be safe? Will the teachers include him? Will he be embraced by peers?”

I began calling all the local preschools; each call full of fear. The schools all essentially said that, “yes, your disabled son can attend, but…” I could cut the sense of reservation with a knife. No one outright said, “no,” to me, but to be frank, I did not feel that any of the schools were really interested in taking my son. And that stung.

I had just about given up hope and, even though it would have been a social and academic disservice to Lochlan, I was very seriously considering keeping him home where I knew he would be safe and loved. But then…I called Sunset Preschool at University Place Presbyterian Church.

I explained our situation to the then school coordinator. I braced for a polite but dishonest, “yes” response but was taken back when she responded with absolutely zero hesitation. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t really believe it. I thought it was a bluff but was then encouraged to come in for a tour of the preschool. I despondently agreed as my last-ditch attempt to not have to keep Lochlan home for another year.

I was not optimistic while on the tour, but tried to have an open heart. The coordinator walked me through the exact path Lochlan would do every day so we could see the obstacles he may face. She told me she was willing to buy adaptive equipment, if necessary, and she assured me that Sunset Preschool was up for accepting Lochlan and the challenges that would undoubtedly come to preschool with him.

I remember asking specifically, “have you ever had child who doesn’t walk?” She “no,” and immediately followed with, “but we are willing to try.”

I didn’t cry in front of her, but most definitely did when I left that day. I knew that I didn’t have an excuse to not pursue this preschool despite how terrified I was. I, myself, and all parents, just want their children to be in environments where they are accepted for who they are and, but quite literally the grace of god, Sunset Preschool set that foundation before they had even met our twins.

Before school started, I met with the twin’s soon-to-be teachers, Miss Kari and Miss Kelli. Both them and I wanted to talk about Lochlan so we both had and understanding of what school might look like for him. At that time, Lochlan mostly crawled or had to be pushed in a stroller. Our meeting definitely had an undertone of fear. On my end and theirs. There were just so many unknowns and many reasons to shy away, but Kari and Kelli did not turn away. They, instead, had the courage to feel that fear and I followed their very brave lead.

Once school actually started, the fears almost immediately disappeared. The school created an inclusive and adaptive environment and we all got to watch other children embrace Lochlan and Lex for who they are as a whole. My twins spent an incredible year in Junior K with Miss Kelli and Miss Kari. The school celebrated Cerebral Palsy awareness day, made accommodations for Lochlan and exceeded every expectation I had. By the end of the year, we even watched Lex and Lochlan walk, yes walk in a cap and gown for their preschool graduation.

It almost hurts to think back at everything that all of us almost missed out on had we chosen to keep him home for a year.

In Kelli and Kari’s classroom, and with the love and support of administrators Jessica and Cheneka, Sunset Primary created an environment where each child in an equal, disability or not. Even though I have tried to show them, this very special team will never know the vast, positive impact that they had on our family. They try to tell me the feeling is the same, but there is no way.

End the end, I think we all learned that when you have the strength to push through loud fears, assumptions and initial instincts, that there just might be something, incredibly beautiful and infinitely impactful waiting to grow on the other.


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1 comment

What a wonderful story. Your boys are strong because of you.
I know my aunt Eva, your grandmother, has Lochran in her hands. She was a blessed person who loved God and believed in God.
God bless you and your family 💝

JoAnn Palmer

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