Before he left for work, I made an egg for my husband Ben to eat for breakfast. It was just the two of us in the kitchen and no little ears were around to hear us talking.
“I just don’t understand why you think that her learning will slow down or just stop one day,” he said to me, the sentence coming out of nowhere with no other context to support it or give clues as to who “her” was.
Our Christmas tree lights are controlled by an on/off button that you press. Four-year-old Jack is in charge of turning the tree lights on every morning and off at bedtime. He mostly stomps the button with his foot, but sometimes he will bend over and use his hand.
Just the day before, Ben had some time to play one-on-one with our daughter Ellie and she pulled him over to the tree to examine the button. It seemed that she had watched Jack turn it on and off for weeks and thought this would be a good time to see if she could try it.
Ben let her lead the way but helped her figure out how much pressure she needed to use to push the button with her palm and eventually how to balance on one foot and stomp it herself. She was excited to learn this magic trick and later she even brought over her newest doll and then her little brother to try to teach them too.
Throughout our education of, by and for Ellie, Ben and I have been given many pieces of advice – academic, medical and anecdotal – about how to best raise our daughter who has Down syndrome. Some of the advice is good, and some is bad. As an anxious parent who has a kid who needs extra help, I can’t help but chase down every piece of “have you heard of” or “did you know” I get hoping I don’t miss something that may be beneficial.
At some point in the past two years, someone told me (either in person or in a book, I can’t remember now) that people with Down syndrome only advance mentally and emotionally so far. That somewhere in their teen or young adult years, they begin to stop being able to take in as much as they do as children. They get set in their ways and that is why their peers pass them by.
The advice was something like, “Cram it all in now because she won’t be able to learn it later.” I must have shared this information with Ben and he has been processing it.
What I failed to circle back on and tell Ben was that this is not true for Ellie any more than it is for any other person. Given the right opportunities or armed with the right tools, any person with or without Down syndrome can continue to learn and grow or find enrichment for their entire lives. Teaching is about finding the right fit for an individual in order to develop their potential.
After asking him to clarify, Ben told me the story about the Christmas tree lights. He said, “She is curious and knows how to put things in order to accomplish tasks. She watches and imitates everything we do. I know that her speech and walking are delayed, but it just seems like she is putting it all together like she should and her world is coming along.”
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