Teacher of Inspiration: Sarah Lynch
By Wendy Singer
Sarah Lynch knew that she was destined to help people with special needs at the young age of five. While her friends were playing soccer or hosting tea parties, she was coercing her brother into “playing school” with her.
Lynch earned her teaching degree 20 years ago at McGill University, graduating with a specialty in special needs and physical education. She is a devoted wife, and mother to Aiden (13), Kian (10), and Annabelle (7), who are the centre of her world.
Her career began at Peter Hall School, working with students with severe to profound disabilities and complex physical and medical needs, and later, various special education classes within the Riverside School Board. She worked with a similar population at the West Montreal Readaptation Centre (CROM) as a specialized teacher, and at the same time while raising a family, offered adapted physical education to referred clients through her own company.
For the past four years, Lynch has been a special education consultant in the Student Services Department at the English Montreal School Board (EMSB). In this role, she works within the board’s special needs network as a case manager supporting the schools, teachers and families by allocating services to students with special needs and making sure their academics are modified as needed. She has also recently become one of three coordinators of the EMSB’s new Centre of Excellence for the Physically, Intellectually and Multi-Challenged, formerly at the Eastern Townships School Board (you can read more about the Centre on p. 28 of this edition).
One would think that Lynch’s 20 years of experience in the special needs field, her tender heart and sensitivity would have prepared her for anything. But when her middle son Kian was diagnosed with Down syndrome at five weeks of age, it was the most difficult experience of her life. “It shattered my world,” she said. “It’s like grief of any kind. It takes lots of time to accept and that’s ok. It’s not because you don’t love your child, but things are very different. You’re not at playgroup, you’re at therapy, you’re not at soccer, you’re at a medical appointment. It’s all very scary,” said Lynch. “But it changes.”
Lynch’s professional experience eventually helped empower her. “Once I was able to be proactive, we began our search for therapies. When you feel so powerless, therapies or classes or specialists are a way to help. There’s no limit to what you’re going to want to try,” she said.
Her first call was to the West Island Association of the Intellectually Handicapped where she was connected with a special needs mom, Sonia, whose son was 3 years old. In their first conversation, Sonia said, “Congratulations!” Lynch did not get it at the time. “Now I am Sonia,” said Lynch, as she encourages fellow parents to not give up, connect with others, normalize it, talk about it.
Lynch has come a long way from her early years growing up on a hobby farm in Spencerville, Ontario. “The journey has led me to places that are unknown and isolating yet has allowed me to experience overwhelming joy and beauty. Learning to accept life at a different pace has taught me to be gentle on myself during the most challenging moments that can seem unsurmountable,” she shared.
Her perspective as a parent provides her with a unique and powerful voice when working with parents, specialists, teachers and community organizations. She can explain the reality of what a family is going through. She commends all of her colleagues and the Student Services team for the outstanding work they do with their students and advises: “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and to connect with the families’ and community agencies. Be compassionate, there’s a lot on these families’ plates. Recognize that each child has the right to learn and grow, even if that path may be different. As a parent, it’s nice to hear what a child is good at and what they can do.”
While stressing the importance of academics, Lynch believes that there is nothing more valuable than knowing that your child is loved by the professionals working with them.
With her Phys. Ed. background, Lynch advises families to keep their children moving so they remain as functional and independent as possible. This is especially important during the pandemic.
Lynch’s family made the most of their time in quarantine, always having an activity planned, be it in the backyard or doing a puzzle indoors. She commends Summit School for the online resources they provided for their students. Mostly, they enjoyed the quiet family time. “Focusing on our kids’ mental health was very important for us,” she added.
When Lynch speaks about Kian and his brother and sister, her face lights up. Kian is thriving at Summit School in spite of feeding and sleeping challenges. He is well-known and loved in his community; the life of the party. In non-pandemic times he plays soccer with the Lakeshore Soccer’s Super Sonics, basketball at Lyndsay Place High School, and is an avid Boston Bruins fan.
“This kid is amazing. He has overcome so many challenges and that has sent us a message. Kian doesn’t get caught up in the stresses. He has an accepting, innocent, uncomplicated view of the world,” said Lynch. “Each day Kian teaches us more than we ever thought possible. We are more patient, compassionate and have reexamined what is truly important in life. I am truly in awe of my son. His courage and determination are humbling.”
To nominate a Caregiver of Inspiration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.