Prior to the autism and apraxia diagnosis, at age eighteen months, I enrolled Constance in a community preschool twice a day for a two-hour program. I thought that having time with other children would be beneficial to her because she did not have siblings. The teachers saw her play at a meet and greet and welcomed her to the program.
The first week of preschool was two half days, meaning that the kids would only be there for about an hour. They had the parents wait in a separate room the entire time. I answered work emails on my phone while the other parents exchanged stories of the joys of parenthood. I know this sounds antisocial but for every email I answered then that was one more minute I didn’t have to take away from Constance later.
The next day when I came in, I got a weird vibe from one of the teachers. She was wearing this bright pink t-shirt that celebrated her surviving breast cancer. She wore it as she moved through the room like it was a shield of invincibility. The way she said hi to me was a bit off. I considered the possibilities. Maybe she was one of those sad women that mistakenly buy into the idea that we’re in competition with each other. Maybe she was annoyed that I worked the day before instead of mingling. Maybe she didn’t like Constance because she had olive skin and black hair. I didn’t know but I put down my phone and made energetic, engaging small talk for the hour.
At the end of class, the teacher asked me to stay after. With two teachers in the room and Constance running around playing, they informed me that they were expelling Constance. When I asked why, they said, “She’s insubordinate.” I replied, “She two years’ old. She couldn’t be more subordinate.” They explained, “She didn’t sit for circle time despite us asking repeatedly.” I suggested, “Did you try taking her by the hand and showing her what circle time was and what you wanted her to do? It’s only her second day. I am sure she’ll learn. We don’t have circle time at home. She’s the only person that would be in the circle.” The teachers shared mutual glances of pity and then said, “Unfortunately, we see a lot of children like Constance who need special attention and we just don’t have the time or staff for that here. Having Constance in the class would not be fair to the other children. I am sorry; you’ll find another place for her.”
Why didn’t they see that like all kids, Constance could learn? Why didn’t they understand that having someone different in the class wouldn’t be harmful to other children, it would be enriching? Angrily, I thought that if they didn’t want Constance, they didn’t deserve her. I picked her up and took her to the car. I waited until I left their parking lot to cry.
What followed was hundreds of phone calls to preschools who said they couldn’t take a child with differences. It is hard to explain how soul crushing calling strangers and describe your child's challenges is. Using the words of the teachers' who expelled used to describe her seemed wrong. I cried as I put a line through each preschool. I worked my way moving further and further away from our home.
Eventually, I found Cherry Preschool’s Inclusion Program. The program includes a child or two with developmental differences in preschool classes with their typically developing peers. They all experience National Association for the Education of Young Children certified curriculum.
Rhonda Cohen, Cherry Preschool’s then inclusion and child development director, saw Constance play and noticed that she was using her imagination with the dolls and dollhouse. Rhonda saw Constance’s potential. What a happy day! I enrolled Constance and so began Constance’s preschool education. It was a program full of friendships, play, love, and acceptance. Cherry is a place where we all learned that “You can’t say, you can’t play.”