Niko was our first born. He was diagnosed at birth with Down syndrome. We were completely unprepared and quite honestly, devastated. The next few months were a whirlwind of navigating through Early Intervention, doctor appointments and just figuring out how to be parents. We had a good support system around us and did everything we could to help Niko meet his milestones.
Niko went to a typical daycare and also attended DART preschool. It was initially difficult getting him into typical daycare. We were on the waiting list for quite a few of them and never heard back. He did well in daycare and we were happy that he was with typical children.
When it came time for his transition to kindergarten, we attended the meeting at our local school district. We had looked into the St. Anthony program prior to the transition meeting because we were concerned about sending Niko to this public school. During our transition meeting, I had raised concerns about Niko needing a 1:1 aide because he was not potty trained and was an elopement risk. I was not convinced that our local school district would provide an aide, and they also wanted to place Niko in Life Skills class in a building away from the kindergarten classes. There would have been no age-appropriate peer models for Niko in that building. At that time, the Word of God School was closing, so that meant that the St. Anthony program would be relocated to another school. That school happened to be St. Therese in Munhall, where we live about 5 minutes away! I felt as if God was trying to tell us something, and although I am a public school teacher, we just really felt this was the right place for Niko.
The K-3 resource room staff at St. Therese made the transition to kindergarten easy for all of us. We felt extremely comfortable leaving Niko with them. They had so much love for Niko and always kept us in the loop with all his activities. I secretly believed that Niko was their favorite student! We cannot say enough about the dedication of the resource room staff. From day to day school activities to all the extra hours they put in to help these kids with things like the Christmas concert, first communion, and in our case, after-school care.
Niko is in 5th grade now and we cannot be happier with how far he has come. He enjoys going to school each day. His teachers are helping him become more independent and more responsible. He is on the basketball team and the golf team. His teammates are very patient with him and look out for him on the court. He is a celebrity at St. Therese. When we go to events like the Kennywood picnic, you cannot even believe the number of kids in all grades that say hello or give him a high-five. We really believe that having the St. Anthony Program at St. Therese is equally beneficial for all. We feel that it has helped the typical kids learn compassion, empathy, and inclusion as well as a positive experience for Niko. We are thankful for all the support (and love) he gets each day.