Dad talks kindergarten: A milestone for his daughter with a disability


Elena on her first day of school.

Editor’s Note: As a school administrator, frequent Easterseals blogger Bernhard Walke has seen many first days of school throughout his career. But this year, the start of school marked a major milestone in his family. His daughter Elena, who has a disability, is non-verbal, and uses a wheelchair, started kindergarten in a mainstream classroom. Bernhard tells us, in this first part of a two-part entry, what it was like for him to help her get ready for her first day.

Our daughter Elena began kindergarten this month, an achievement that has been years in the making. I can only think of one other morning when I was more nervous: my wedding day.

On the first day of kindergarten, all eyes would be focused on my daughter with a disability rather than me. And that’s what scared me.

Ever since she was ten months old, Elena has been working at Easterseals DuPage and Fox Valley with a physical, occupational, and speech therapist – along with countless other assertive
technology experts and family members – to be able to live a life with the greatest ability possible.

Elena has been working very, very hard to get to this point, and her work seemed to be paying off. When school officials recommended Elena go into a mainstream educational setting, my wife and I felt like we had just ingested a mixed cocktail of excitement and fear.

Of course, we couldn’t be prouder of her. Elena has always been a trailblazer and pioneer, but sometimes we fear at what cost. I couldn’t help but look at her first day of kindergarten as a marker of her progress.

In anticipation of Elena’s enrollment, my wife and I met with the school’s principal last spring. During that meeting the principal mentioned that Elena would be the first non-verbal student who uses a chair for mobility to attend the school. There is an immense amount of pressure on her now that she’s “the first,” because many of “the firsts” in educational history haven’t always run as smoothly as possible.

The night before Elena’s first day, my wife and I picked out her school outfit, packed her backpack, charged her computer, signed the necessary forms, prepared her lunch, and got to bed a little bit earlier.

That morning, Elena scarfed down her breakfast in a record 30-minutes, and we loaded her into her wheelchair for the one-block walk to kindergarten.

We moved to a handicapped accessible home on the other side of town just six months ago, so Elena is a bit new to the neighborhood. Most of the kids are still getting to know her. None of this bothered Elena, though: as we rolled down the block and onto the playground, Elena’s trademark smile
appeared and cast a spell on several adults and students around her!

Stay tuned for Part Two of Elena’s First Day of Kindergarten to see how she nails it!


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