How These Parents Made Sure Their Twins With Down Syndrome Received Inclusive Education

Venessa Diaz and her husband were surprised to learn their local public school wouldn't offer their twin boys with Down syndrome the education that would serve them best. Here's how they took charge of their educational experience.

When Venessa Diaz and her husband, Claudio Moya, found out they were expecting twin boys, they were really excited. About 12 weeks in, an ultrasound showed that there were markers for Down syndrome. "We decided to take a noninvasive blood test to confirm the results, and they came back positive," she recalls.

The couple, who were already parents to a daughter named Claudessa, say they didn't know anything about Down syndrome prior to receiving their sons' diagnosis. "It was difficult—we hadn't grown up with anyone, and we hadn't seen any other person with Down syndrome in school growing up," says Diaz, a writer and performer.

At the same time, they were given information about the genetic disorder that was antiquated. "So we thought it was going to be the worst thing ever," says Diaz. "Every parent wants their child to be the fastest, tallest, strongest, smartest kid. And you're told, at the very beginning, they're never going to walk, never going to talk, never going to go to the school."

Being bombarded with so much negativity was disheartening, but the couple opted to seek out other sources of information. They soon learned that people with Down syndrome "can go to college, get married, drive a car, live independently."

"All of the abilities and capabilities of those successful [people]—that's really what's missing out there," says Moya, adding that is what drives them to share their boys Julian and Noel's story.

When the now 8-year-olds were ready to attend elementary school, the family faced resistance from their nearest public school in Suffolk County, New York. "When we tried to get them into our regular local elementary school that was just a block away, we were told that they couldn't attend," says Diaz. "Our school district wanted to send them to a special school—a school that educates individuals with multiple disabilities."

But according to research, individuals with Down syndrome learn best when they're educated alongside typical peers, Diaz points out. "People with Down syndrome are savants in imitating people, and they want to emulate what they see," she adds.

Still, school districts have a lot of money to wield their power, and parents often end up with no choice but to send their children to a special school that's non-inclusive, says Diaz.

Upon realizing that New York state was particularly problematic, the couple asked other parents in their Down syndrome community which state might offer a different, more inclusive take. They talked to other parents of kids who have Down syndrome about where they live and send their kids to school. And many of them recommended Pennsylvania, which is where the family ultimately decided to move. "I knew that we had a better chance here," says Diaz.

The schools in the Keystone State were on board with fulfilling a promise stated by federal law, which as Diaz explains, says that any individual with a disability should be educated in the same school, same classroom that they would be had they not had that disability—with all the supports and services to help them thrive in that environment. "That is not to say that they need to be doing the same thing their peers are," she explains. "They just need to meet their own personal goals in that inclusive environment."

These days, Diaz is happy to report that her sons finally go to school in their neighborhood elementary school a few blocks away from where they live. "They are so welcomed, arms wide open—not just by the staff but by their peers," says the proud mom.

And inclusivity will have a long-term, positive impact. "When a child is included with their community, with their peers, they create long-lasting relationships with their friends, with their neighbors, with the community at large," says Diaz. "They will work in the community. They will have real connections, and that's really important as a human being."

Now, the proud parents are fired up to stand up for not only their boys but all people who have Down syndrome. "What they contribute, what they bring is their energy," says Diaz. "They're so full of love, so full of life, and just so pure. It is our mission to make sure people realize that these people deserve to be here on this planet, and they deserve the same rights that any human deserves."

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