MERIDIAN, Idaho — Emma Case is 5-years-old and just started kindergarten this year at Willow Creek Elementary in Meridian. It's a big year, filled with excitement and new experiences.
However, her mom had some worries about Emma being accepted and included. Emma is in the special education classroom and spends time in the general education classroom as well.
"Emma was born with a disease called Rett syndrome, which is a disease that looks a lot like autism, cerebral palsy and epilepsy all in one little girl," said her mom, Megan Case. "She can't walk, she can't talk, and she has very limited function with her hands, so she needs help with every part of her day."
Rett syndrome is a rare genetic neurological disorder that occurs almost exclusively in girls and impacts the ability to speak, walk, eat, and even breathe easily. When school started, Emma's mom did something really special to set her up for success in and out of the classroom.
"I wanted to be sure that Emma had a fair chance of having the typical kindergarten experience, and I wanted her to make friends. I knew that not knowing about Emma and why she did things differently could stand in the way of that," Case said. "So I created some flyers to give to the teachers and other kiddos in the classroom to explain why she is different and how she does things, and what they would experience with Emma being in their class on a daily basis."
The flyer all about Emma was a big hit with the kids, their families and the staff. Everyone was excited for the opportunity to have this sweet little girl in their classroom. Her extended resource room teacher at Willow Creek, Savannah Slichter, thought it was a fantastic idea to introduce Emma to every one, since she is non-verbal.
"I loved it, it's so child-oriented and it's cute," Slichter said. "It gave us enough information to really know who Emma is, and it's not just about her diagnosis, but about the things she likes to do as a little kid!"
Case was thrilled with the reaction from the classroom community. It was more than what she had hoped for.
"We got an incredibly positive response, so I decided if it was such a success for Emma in her one little classroom, at her one little school, then maybe it would be a success among other special needs families in the valley and in the state," Case said. "I shared it on Facebook and very quickly we had thousands of responses and hundreds of messages and requests to share the documents that we need so other parents can make something similar for their kids."
Her post, and idea, went viral. Case was blown away by how much support she received here in Idaho and from all over the country.
"It makes a very lonely time in our lives not feel so alone, and it reminds us that there are other people who we know, and who we don't even know, who we have never met, that now are wanting Emma to be successful," Case said. "That's the greatest gift that parents could hope for."
Emma's year is already off to a fantastic start. She has been embraced by her classmates. They want to be her friend and learn more about her. They are welcome to ask questions and help her in any way that she needs.
"They want to know why she's in a wheelchair and why she doesn't talk to them, and why she makes her special noises," Case said. "But they also are asking to come up and say "hi" to her, they are asking for her to come and be with them on the playground. Seeing that just gave me so much hope that Emma will have the wonderful experience that I want for all of my kids, that we all want for our kids, that she would be included and valued."
This mom wants other special needs parents to feel free to advocate for their kids. Above all, she wants them to feel the way she does right now, supported and loved.
"I hope more than anything that parents will be reminded that you are your child's greatest advocate and that no one knows your child like you do," Case said. "That only wonderful things will come from introducing your child to the people and the world around them."
For more information on Emma's journey with RETT syndrome, and to reach out to her mom, you can follow her Facebook page, Emma's Village.
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