Sunday, January 11, 2009

Down Syndrome is not a "One-Size-Fits-All" Tag

Some days I don't have to ask Alex, "How was your day at school dear?" These days are not frequent. My uber-typical son doesn't give me an impromptu discourse on the behavior and relationships of his classmates. No, I get the ad-libbed, extemporaneous monolog on the latest Xbox game and his various Lego weapons of mass destruction instead.

When I do get an unprompted discourse on his day at school I stop. I listen. I pray. I hope. Maybe. I. Have. The. Right. Response.

It happened when we were getting in the car to run errands. Maybe we were heading to swim team. I just remember he mentioned his friend "D" who had been over to play the week before. Mom, 'D' said that 'A' has her own language, and no one in class understands her. I don't think she has any friends, and I really hope that Ellie can talk clearly so that everyone can understand her. I don't want her to be lonely, and not have any friends in school." quick breath. "Mom, do you think that will happen to Ellie? I really hope she can learn to speak so people can understand her, and not have her own language that no one gets." Images are flashing across my mind like a dvd on fast forward. At the same time, these two big blue saucers of pain and worry are peering up at me and pleading with me to make his fears go away. Of course he has no idea that his words have sliced into the core of my very soul like a well-sharpened kitchen knife. What a clean cut. Take a deep breath. Say a quick prayer. Let it out.

The images are helping me. I'm remembering the Fall Awards Assembly. I arrived early. Let me write that again. I arrived EARLY. That doesn't happen. much. at. all. Just ask Alex. I got to sit in the front row. Right behind where Alex's class sat down. After all the classes arrived and were seated, then 'A' came in, and found her class. Alex's class. Their class is the Inclusion class for 4th grade. It's a potpouri of typical kids, ESL kids, Special Needs kids, and Gifted kids. It's taught by a Fairy GodMother - Mrs. T has just the right touch for each and every one of her precious charges. Talk about a gifted teacher!!

As I sit in the Awards Assembly I watch 'A' who you may have guessed by now has Down Syndrome. She walks across the room with that typical DS gait - forward leaning, lumbering, looks like she just might fall over any second. She is very excited to join her class, and as she heads their way, I hold my breath. I realize that my eyes are watering. I am worried for her. Does anyone want her to sit beside them? Or are they all hoping she'll sit some where else? Memories of my own childhood and the embarassment of being with the "labeled" kids is haunting me. As quickly as that gray cloud arrived, it is lifted. The sun is shining. It's a beautiful day. The most wonderful scene is right in front of me. A sweet classmate motions to 'A' to come sit by her. The little girl leans over and whispers to 'A'. She gives 'A' a quick hug, and fixes her hair. They chat for a few minutes with smiles on their faces and then sit quietly and closely as they watch the Assembly, clapping vigorously for all the awardees. 'A' receives an award and everyone claps for her. She heads up to the stage and smiles.

I give Alex a big smile. "Just because Ellie and 'A' both have DS doesn't mean that they are the same. Each person with DS is just as much an individual as any person without DS. Remember that Ellie is signing so very much and her speech is improving every day. Her future isn't written in stone, so we'll just have to wait and see. She is such a friendly, happy person I'm sure she'll have lots of friends as she grows up."

"You're probably right, Mom." The blue eyes look hopeful now.


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