As parents, it’s normal to worry about our kids. Most of the time, our concerns are universal. We all want our children to be healthy, happy, and cared for.
But we also wrestle with specific concerns. In the case of my son Michael, who has Down syndrome, I worry for his safety when he’s away from home. Michael has hearing loss and limited language. I find myself wondering — is he getting along with his classmates? How would he react if there’s an emergency?
These questions don’t always have easy answers. And of course, it’s also possible to worry too much — even the best parents can’t always be there for their kids. But I’ve come to learn that what we can do is give our kids the right education for them to become more confident in their independence.
When Michael graduated from Saint Katherine School (SKS) two years ago, one of the proudest accomplishments he left with was working at Havertown Health & Fitness through the school’s work program. There, his primary role was keeping the equipment clean. That sense of responsibility meant a lot to Michael. He felt empowered to learn skills, follow directions, and complete tasks.
The key to unlocking Michael’s confidence? Teachers willing to recognize his specific needs. Everyone at both the Wynnewood and Radnor campuses — the administrators, teachers, and the job coach — worked tirelessly to provide individualized plans matching Michael’s unique pace. Every decision directed Michael towards becoming as independent as he could be.
I know this because I saw it firsthand. Unlike many schools, SKS fosters an open-door parent policy. I felt comfortable popping in at any time to check how Michael was doing. The staff really valued working directly with me to ensure Michael was having a beneficial experience.
That warm, compassionate approach went a long way. Michael was very, very happy at school — and I felt much more at ease with him being there. The teachers welcomed the opportunity to bring in one-on-one instruction. And the job coach kept me regularly updated with day-to-day progress reports.
It’s unlikely that Michael would have received that same level of attention at other schools. That’s why I’m so grateful that he was able to develop abilities he still uses today. He’s better with communication, task management, and fine motor skills. Michael also enjoys socializing with some of his old classmates from SKS.
As a parent, I don’t know that I’ll ever reach a point where I’ll stop worrying for my child completely. What I do know is that Michael is more independent than ever before, thanks to the help of professionals who genuinely care for him. And that’s a fact in which I can rest easy.
Mary Beth Malloy lives in Newtown Square with David. Her son Michael graduated from Saint Katherine School in 2017 and currently attends Don Guanella/Divine Providence Day Program.