It was in my daughter’s 1st grade school year that we were thrust into the world of Special Education services. IEP, IDEA, LRE, OHI, and LEA are just a few of the acronyms that were introduced to our vocabulary that year. The song “A Whole New World” from Aladdin is suddenly playing in my head just writing that sentence. Very fitting since Mrs. Hamilton and Abby are Disney fans.
One of the most difficult words to come to terms with was Intellectual Disability. Our beautiful, perfect daughter was suddenly diagnosed with an Intellectual Disability. She was in kindergarten when she started to show a delay in her learning. She began forgetting things she had learned and had difficulty learning basic kindergarten skills. She began with testing and after 2 years, was ultimately diagnosed with Sanfilippo Syndrome, a rare, genetic terminal disorder with a life expectancy of 10-20 years old. We were utterly devastated and our lives forever changed.
Enter one of the most Special people to walk our journey with us… Mrs. Hamilton. She was Abby’s first Special Education teacher. We were blessed to have her as our daughter’s guardian away from home for 3 years. Just thinking about her makes my eyes fill with tears. She had the ultimate patience to handle Abby, who I describe as quirky, peculiar, and moody at times but when she likes you….she loves you. When she warms up to and takes to people, they are truly special to her. Mrs. Hamilton GOT Abby, she understood her, she knew how to encourage and challenge her. Their bond was truly amazing. I felt completely at ease sending Abby to spend the day with her and knew that she would care for her like she was her own.
Mrs. Hamilton and Abby shared a love for all things Disney. It was the perfect way for Mrs. Hamilton to engage Abby. She used Abby’s love for Disney and her little sister Kate in the most creative ways to keep her interested. Mrs. Hamilton introduced us to the world of Special Olympics. Abby had just received her Sanfilippo diagnosis when Mrs. Hamilton invited Abby to participate. This was truly a whole new world for us. Abby was curious about the children in wheelchairs but as quick as she asked, she moved on and seemed accepting of their differences. She had such a great experience that day. Not only did Abby feel like a Special Olympian, we realized we became more accepting and proud of the world of all things “Special”.
We ended up moving to be closer to family after Abby’s diagnosis. The thing that worried us the most was Abby starting a new school and having to bond with new teachers. We felt a deep connection with Mrs. Hamilton as she was with us during the lowest time in our lives. She was there when we thought Abby only had a developmental delay and she was there when we found out she had a terminal illness. She cried with us, she encouraged us and she will never truly know what she meant to our family. She is our forever special hero that we will never forget.