Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sean's Story A Lesson In Life Update Part 1

I've been debating about doing this blog post or not for a long time now. And it's not such a simple yes or no see we started down this path many, many years ago and it's been the right path for my family. So I guess it is the right thing to do afterall...

Most of those that know me, know that I have a son, Sean who is 24 and was born with Down Syndrome. As a young mother at 23, the doctors told me to take my son home and treat him as I would any other, so we did. Well with one or two modifications. Sean need special therapies to help him do things...regular things that every kid normally does. So we set out to find the help Sean needed. He was enrolled in a special education school from 2 months old....I know you're saying, what can a 2 month old learn....well as I said all the "normal" things and he wasn't gonna stay little forever. So we went down that path...infants and toddlers, PT, OT and Speech Therapy. We had something to do 5 days a week...mostly in the morning as I still worked full time as I went to work after doing all the things that Sean needed each day. Our life went like this for 5 years.

In the fall of what would be Sean's kindergarten year, we had a meeting with the teacher. I asked her when she was going to address teaching ABC' know the things kids in kindergarten learn. She told me that the children weren't ready to learn them...ok, not taking that for an answer I asked what they "needed" to be "ready". She told me they needed to know the ABC song....well I knew most of the kids in Sean's class as I watched them grow from infants. I socialized with these families as we had a common bond...a child with a handicap. So I knew that these kids knew that song....well I knew all but 1 did and that was only because he was new to the school. So that started me further down the path of change...that and the comment the principal of the "special" school made. She said "Kids like Sean never leave Ridge school". She was determining my child's path based on his disability!

Needless to say Sean did leave that school. We started down the path to inclusion. In the swirl of the controversy that was surrounding LRE (least restrictive environment) as our school system was being sued under a federal EDGAR complaint, we decided to enroll Sean in a regular education school. We were approached by ABC News Turning Point, to do a full access documentary on Sean's first year in inclusion. We agreed to give full access, the school was on board so we went ahead and the school boards superintendent was fully supportive. So we lived for a year with an ABC news crew in and out of our home filming everything from school, our home life and Sean's recreational activities.

At the beginning of Sean's second grade year, the show was aired. Meredith Viera was the host and the documentary, Sean's Story: A Lesson In Life, chronicled Sean's first year. It also followed Sean's friend Bobby, who's parents choose to keep him at Ridge school.

As time passed I had the opportunity to speak to many college students that were majoring in education. I was delighted to have a part in helping to shape the future teachers that children across the country would have. I would go to colleges and speak openly and frankly answering all their questions regarding the nuts and bolts of how it all worked. Sean's Story soon was included in text books that these young college students were learning from. The emails and phones call continue to this day, all these many years later, so that's part of why I'm doing this post. One question is consistent in every email or call....what happened to Sean after that year....the show sort of did leave you wondering. Anyway, I hope to answer some of those questions here.

After Sean's first year at Sparks Elementary, our beautiful old school had a devastating fire and was burned to the ground. We were lucky to be able to house the kids intact, at a under utilized middle school that wasn't too far away. So Sean's second year continued without too much interruption. His teacher told me that Sean would never learn to read phonetically...well that became her new mission and my new goal....glad to say that Sean did learn and still does read that way! The rest of Sean's elementary school went on with a few issues. Every year we had some "attitudes" that may have needed adjustment but for the most part, things weren't bad. During that time, we also had a new addition in our family, in Ian, our youngest, who many who read my blog will remember, is my creative genius!

Anyway, on to middle school , a whole bunch of new kids to befriend, with few adjustments and not many issues. Then came high school. We were welcomed with open arms. Anything was possible at Hereford High School. They made it work. There wasn't a time when they said no. I can not thank Hereford High school and their wonderful staff enough for all that they did for Sean. Sean was very well known in the school. He had an infectious friendly personality.

In the spring of 2005 (Sean's graduating class) Sean attended his senior prom. Well the night was magical. The kids voted Sean as prom king! Yep, Sean was that well liked by his peers. What a proud moment for me...that these kids actually "got it"! That Sean was accepted by his peers for he who he was. Sean didn't exit school that year, as kids in MD with disabilities are able to stay til 21 so that's what we did.

Sean and Delene dancing as prom king and queen.

The next 2 years we brushed up on writing and math skills. Sean was able to do some work experience outside of school as part of his curriculum. Sean also found bowling. He was appointed co captain of the high school Allied Bowling team. He was able to help out the varsity baseball team that his younger brother, Josh played on. As the end of the year approached, the physical education staff, who adored Sean, gave him a Hawaiian themed graduation party. A party that was attended by over 200 students. Many, many more wanted to sign up to attend but the cut off had to be made somewhere. It was nice to see how much Sean had touched everyone's lives.

As graduation night approached, Sean attended commencement practice just like everyone else. We had special seats reserved for us on the night of graduation, right behind the students, so we were able to see all the action. The students one by one filed up on stage to receive their diplomas. When Sean's name was announced, his whole graduating class, stood and gave him a standing ovation as he walked across the stage. What a nice tribute. These kids admired that Sean gave 110% of himself, every day, every minute. They respected him and he them. These kids got it! Another tear jerker moment for mom! It was a sad day for Sean to leave his beloved Hereford High but it was time to move on.

The rest of the story will have to wait til tomorrow as I am afraid this post has already been too long.


  1. Dee, thanks so much for sharing this story, what an incredible son you have! I can't wait to hear "the rest of the story".I just love where you refused to accept another's perspective of what your child was capable of...awesome post!

  2. Jody,

    Hey, thanks hon! Sean is an awesome kid and I am proud that he is my son. He has taught me and my family so much. It certainly hasn't been the easiest path to go down, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat! He is worth every tear I shed, every minute I spent fighting for what was right.

  3. Gosh Dee...that was amazing! Looking forward to your next post on his continuation! I never realized that ABC did a special on him. Kudos to you and your family for being there for Sean every step of the way. I can't imagine what you have had to endure with schools and such!
    HUGS girl!!

  4. B,

    Yeah, I don't always speak about the documentary as that was such a raw moment for many emotions were put into that 1 year, but I'd do it again!

    And while I did have my struggles with the school and things, others have had it worse and still do. Many parents are still fighting for their's such a shame as it doesn't have to be that way.

    I feel very blessed that we lived in the "Hereford Zone" as it's called...the schools there were for the most part wonderful. Most of my issues came from breaking down barriers...and they still do!

  5. Thank you so much for share the story of you and your son! Keep fight for him and what he can do, and do not listen to the others!

  6. Rose,

    Thanks! I stopped listening to the "experts" a long time ago! I will fight for Sean til my last dying breath and when I'm gone I know his brothers will take up where I left off. Sean deserves that and more!

  7. Thanks for the update! I just watched the documentary on Sean as part of a Special Education course I am taking in Quito, Ecuador. We all enjoyed the documentary and wondered what Sean was doing today. Congratulations to you and Sean for all your hard work. You must be so proud!
    Kit Anderson

  8. Thank you for the update! I'm also a future teacher - we spent two days discussing Sean's story in my Exceptional & Diverse Learners course. I was so glad to read that your experience during Sean's High School years was a positive one. How awesome that the student body really did "get it."
    Thank you for sharing your life with us!

  9. Dee, I want to thank you for the update on Sean. I teach at a university where Sean's Story has been a valued part of our curriculum for years. Happy to hear he is doing so well.

  10. Kit, Liz and Sue,

    Thank you for teaching and learning using Sean's journey through life. He has gotten so much from life and he hopefully has given back much too. It was very heartwarming to see the kids, his peers, "get it". They are truly our future.

    Every journey begins with one step... you just have to take it and believe.


  11. We watched Sean's story in my child development class tonight. I am a part time preschool teacher and full time SDC aide in a Special Ed class at a high school in California. I didn't think that the story would have that big of an impact on me. I get it.. I am doing it. I am 100% for inclusion.. I was wrong. The most powerful part of your story for me was not your victory (which was definitely awesome), it was the powerful impact that Sean had on his class and teacher. His placement there was a gift. And from your update on your blog it is a gift that kept giving as Sean touched many more lives. Thank you for sharing your story.

  12. Thank you so much. My writing 101 class is doing an essay on inclusion and I just wanted to say shawn is inspiring. He will change the life or many.

  13. I watched Sean's Story this week as part of a special education class I'm taking, and I've been incredibly curious as to how Sean progressed. It's great to see that he has done so well (but how could he not with the support of such a great mother)!

  14. Thank you so much for posting the update. I am happy to see how well Sean has progressed. I believe all students have what it takes to learn. We just need to give them the opportunity. His story has made me cry with happiness for you and especially for him. What an amazing experience for all who know him and those who don't (like me). Thanks again for sharing something so personal.