Perspective: Krista Riblet, Parent

Everywhere we go, it always happens. We’ll be out at the mall or at a restaurant, and some stranger comes up to our family and says, “Hi Johnny!” My husband and I always laugh because sometimes it feels like he knows more people than we do. If you’ve ever met Jonathan, he’s not someone who you easily forget. Jonathan is our younger son. He’s 18 and a sophomore at Elkhart Central. Jonathan was born eight weeks early and has cerebral palsy. Our family journey with Jonathan has been very challenging at times, but I know that these challenges have molded us into stronger, better people.

All parents know that change is hard. Our kids thrive on consistency. Changing schools is hard; having a new teacher is hard; experiencing a job change is hard. When you have a child with special needs, all of those changes can be disastrous. Fortunately for us, all of the changes that Jonathan experienced in Elkhart Community Schools were seamless. From the amazing preschool experience at PACE to the loving and kind teachers at Eastwood, I credit those folks with giving Jonathan the best chance for becoming the person he is today. Their gentle guidance and support helped us through some dark times, and helped us to see that this wasn’t the end of our world. We just think of it as a different journey. As Jonathan transitioned to North Side, his social side really came out. At the time, I was teaching at North Side, so all of the kids who knew me also knew Jonathan. Every year, I read Stuck in Neutral to my 7th graders. It’s about a boy who has cerebral palsy who can’t speak or interact with the world. I read it so that the kids learn that there are students like Jonathan who need to have friendships and relationships with their peers. The book always had a huge impact on the kids and made them realize that special needs kids want the same things that they want: to have friends, to be accepted, and to have fun. The students at Elkhart Central have embraced Jonathan and all of his quirks. He loves going to plays, dances, and various sporting events. The kids always greet him with a high five or knuckles. His teachers and paras are so amazing and patient. We have encountered so many amazing people on this journey, and there is no way we could ever express our gratitude to all who have made an impact on Jonathan’s life.

One of the scariest things about our life is that we are afraid of what the future holds for Jonathan. When you have a special needs child, you never know what is ahead. You live for today, and you don’t look too far down the road. There will come a time when my husband and I won’t be here to take care of Jonathan, to assure him when he is scared, to make sure he is safe, to be his voice. Those responsibilities will fall on our older son, and it doesn’t seem fair. That’s a lot for anyone to manage. Using my classroom to create compassionate, caring young people is my main priority. I have always been an advocate for my students in the hopes that one day, when they are adults, they will pay it forward by being a friend and an advocate for Jonathan and his peers.