Like so many mothers, one of Liz Finnegan’s favorite personality traits of her 3 ½-year-old daughter is her zest for life. “It gives me so much peace,” she said. “She is social, loves to sing and dreams about being a princess; I swear we’ve seen “Beauty and the Beast” 150 times,” she laughed.
But in many ways, Liz shared, she hasn’t always felt as she’d imagined most mothers of toddlers feel. That’s because Liz’s daughter, Mia, was born at 30 weeks with periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) and diagnosed at the age of 1 with Cerebral Palsy. Her diagnosis has resulted in limited mobility. “Being the mother of a child with a disability, there were times where I felt isolated and alone, like I was the only mom in all of Westchester whose daughter had these needs.”
Those feelings began to change when Liz brought Mia to the John A. Coleman School in White Plains for an initial Early Intervention Evaluation in August 2013 when Mia was just 3 months old. The Coleman School’s evaluation team and ongoing service coordinator supported Liz’s family in developing a plan of service in her home. Mia began attending the Toddler Developmental Group in White Plains in September 2015 and then in September 2016 she transitioned into a preschool SCIS (Special Class in an Integrated Setting) classroom, where students with special needs learn alongside students without disabilities. “It’s such a nice, friendly environment and it doesn’t feel cold or hospital-like,” Liz said.
According to Liz, the warmth of the Coleman School community has been so special for her daughter’s growth. “Mia went out for big, Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR) surgery just about a month ago, to help manage her spasticity. The first day I brought her back to school everyone was asking about her and talking to her. The staff is so loving and they made her feel like she was the most popular girl in school!” Liz said. The Coleman School community has also been important for Liz as a mother. “I’m around other mothers who get it,” she said. “Plus I love the ‘ordinary’ experiences of bringing in cupcakes for birthday parties and things like that.”
Mia is graduating from the Coleman School in June 2017. When reflecting on her daughter’s progress, Liz shared that she is thrilled with all that Mia has learned from her teachers, all that she has gained from her work with her school therapists and the confidence and motivation she’s acquired thanks to her peers. “I have a lot to be grateful for,” she said. “I want the teachers and the staff to know that I appreciate everything, especially the details like the way they lift her and help her eat. They really give these children who go through so much a happy and safe space to spend their day.”