Promoting inclusion and mental well-being | Promouvoir l’inclusion et le mieux-être mental
Inspirations Articles

Transitioning to high school: The path unknown by Sarah Lynch

A look of pride on Kian’s face as he receives his first haircut in August. Photo courtesy of S. Lynch
A look of pride on Kian’s face as he receives his first haircut in August. Photo courtesy of S. Lynch
Montreal - Thursday, December 8, 2022

by Sarah Lynch

Starting high school is an exciting and daunting experience for both families and students. It entails saying goodbye to some childhood friends and teachers, and leaving behind the familiar setting of elementary school. It also marks an important step in the journey towards adulthood. For parents of children with special needs, this transition is an emotional milestone to celebrate as we continue our journey along a different, unmarked path.

As a mother of a 12-year-old son with a moderate intellectual disability in the context of Down syndrome, our journey has included a series of turns, obstacles, triumphs and heartache. I often fought back tears listening to other parents discuss their child’s “typical” path to high school. Discussions often focused on how inconvenient it was to write various entrance exams to elite programs or how their children learned how to take the train or bus with ease. We related to the stress of these experiences because we had lived them with my older son. However, taking the journey with a special needs child is a completely different, at times isolating experience. I often remained silent, wishing that I could share the same concerns and worries.

We prepared my son for high school in ways that were important and unique to his needs. Although he is not capable of taking public transportation to school, we still celebrated his hard work while on his school bus, when his harness was removed. He started high school with pride as he learned how to shower independently and accepted to have his first-ever haircut at the barber. He came home from school and began to do homework on his own, focusing on writing his full name and trying to write a sentence with support. He accepted a new snack for his lunch, slept the whole night in his bed and expressed his love for his crush. Most importantly, he got himself ready, got dressed, organized his bag and complied when we wouldn’t let him pack Nerf guns for the ride to school. I am overcome with emotion as I watch him leave each morning, acting like a true pre-teen as he heads for the back of his bus without waving goodbye.

We need to celebrate the successes of all families while being gentle towards others that are following a path that no one prepared us for. Although our children will always have challenges, their individual accomplishments need to be valued by others and recognized for their significance. As I continue to listen to others speak about the high school honour roll or the stress of looking into CEGEPs, I can’t help but feel blessed as I take my son’s hand and continue this journey together, without a roadmap, and look forward to what lies ahead. 

Sarah Lynch is special education consultant at the English Montreal School Board and coordinator, Centre of Excellence for the Physically, Intellectually, and Multi-Challenged.