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  • My Daughter With Down Syndrome Just Graduated From Regular School

    A mom shares how the experience has been like when it came to educating her daughter who has Down syndrome.
    by Joy Liza Elmido-Formoso .
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    PHOTO BY courtesy of Joy Liza Elmido-Formoso

    When we found out that our daughter, Angel Jzmyn, has Down syndrome (DS), we knew that she would have a lot of developmental delays. Most children with Down syndrome have a lot of health conditions brought about by their extra chromosome, but the key for parents is acceptance, medical support, and early intervention.

    In my Master's class in special education (SPED), I learned that all necessary therapies and intervention should be provided by parents during the first three years after birth or the “window of opportunity.” The brain of any child during this crucial time is like a sponge — it quickly absorbs the information given in these formative years. 

    We provided Angel the earliest intervention by enrolling her in therapy sessions as young as 4 months old. Among these sessions were physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. When it was time for her to go to school, my husband and I scouted for progressive preschools that can accommodate her learning needs, and we luckily found one in Antipolo, which is near our residence.

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    Choosing between a SPED and regular school

    I considered enrolling her in a special or SPED school located inside an exclusive village in the Katipunan area, and it was just minutes away from my workplace. My daughter’s developmental pediatrician, Dr. Rita Villadolid, however, recommended we find her a regular school instead.


    Dr. Villadolid explained that all those early interventions, as well as the numerous therapy sessions Angel had to go through, was to prepare and equip her so she can thrive in a regular school. Children with DS learn best through imitation, and it is, in fact, one of their best skills.

    Putting our daughter in a regular school environment meant exposure to regular students and, therefore, she sees and emulates their behavior. According to our doctor, SPED schools would have a diverse set of special students with different conditions such as autism and ADHD, and there was a high possibility that Angel may imitate their atypical behavior.

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    What inclusive education looks like

    Our first experience of inclusive education was when we enrolled Angel in a toddler class at Kids R Us Preschool (now named Prima Schola) in Masinag. Teacher Mayan Ignacio, the school directress and the owner, was accommodating and oriented us about their school programs. We readily felt that Angel was welcomed and accepted. Angel was mixed in one classroom with regular students. Assistance was provided for her at no extra cost.  The directress even suggested we move her up to a higher level, which will be more appropriate for her age, but we felt that she might not be ready for the academic programs at that level. 

    For Kindergarten, we moved her to KCLC (Kindergarten Camp Learning Center) through Teacher Cathy Pastor, who runs SMART Therapy Center where Angel was also enrolled. Both institutions were just across each other.

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    Angel in her costumes for Linggo ng Wika (left) and United Nations Day in 2018.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Joy Liza Elmido-Formoso

    Immediately, we felt the many advantages of inclusion in a regular school. As explained by our pediatrician, Angel was exposed to typical school behavior. She developed the confidence to socialize with classmates especially during class dance presentations. Her mere presence in a regular school encouraged awareness and acceptance from the students, parents, and teachers.

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    But we had challenges, too. Angel had to cope with the school’s curriculum and requirements, and at times she would be tired and sleepy in class because she just came from her therapy session. We also had to hire a shadow teacher who accompanies Angel inside the classroom. She helps to modify the lessons or simplify lessons to help Angel cope better with the academic requirements of the school.

    On weekends, a SPED tutor comes in to help Angel do her assignments. All these are an additional expense on top of her tuition and therapy fees — the costs seem bottomless. We are thankful to God because He continuously provides us with enough resources to support all the needs of our unique child.


    Goodbye, preschool. Hello, Grade 1

    It actually took Angel five years to finish preschool. She started with Toddler, Nursery, Pre-Kinder, Junior Kinder and Senior Kinder. In March 2019, she graduated Senior Kinder, and we were so proud and teary-eyed to see her walking up that big stage to get her diploma.

    Our moment of pride: Angel graduates from preschool moves up to Grade 1! I’m so excited to scout for her new school.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Joy Liza Elmido-Formoso
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    As she prepares for a new level, Angel has still to go to numerous therapy sessions every week. She has finished her physical therapy sessions to improve her low muscle tone, a common condition among children with DS. Twice a week, Angel takes speech therapy to improve both her receptive and expressive communication skills. Once a week, she has occupational therapy where she learns daily living skills like brushing her teeth, buttoning clothes, proper pencil grip, shoe lacing technique, eating on her own, among other things that many of us would often take for granted.

    All children should be given EQUAL chances and opportunities so they may fully enjoy their right to education.
    PHOTO BY courtesy of Joy Liza Elmido-Formoso

    This arduous journey of educating Angel may look like one big challenge — and it is. However, it taught me and the people whom Angel has touched the importance of inclusion. Inclusion simply means “nobody is left behind.”

    Having Angel alongside regular students help the people around her accept diversity and the differences in God’s creation and at the same time teaches them compassion, patience, and unconditional love. My Angel, after all, isn’t called special for nothing.

    Joy Liza Elmido-Formoso, M.Ed., juggles a full-time job at Miriam College and being a wife to Butch and hands-on mom to two boy, JJ and CJ, and daughter, Angel. She took up her Master's degree in SPED to equip and empower herself as a special mom to Angel. She is an active member of the Down Syndrome Association of the Philippines and hopes to set up a therapy center to help more special children and their families. You may reach her at joy.liza.formoso@gmail.com.


    Special thanks to Dahl D. Bennett

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