blogs written by mothers of younger children with down syndrome. This is due largely to the work of the Meriah, the talented
author of With a Little Moxie.
days of ease, when Alex was cute (she still is) included in activities with her
peers (she is not so much anymore) and every developmental milestone noted and celebrated
(Alex is 19 and most milestones have been met).
world than Alex and I did 19 years ago. Children with disabilities are more accepted
in the classroom, â€œregularâ€ activities and have huge support networks. Unfortunately,
I also believe our society has regressed in a number of ways, there are now very
vocal organizations who feel kids with down syndrome shouldnâ€™t even have the
opportunity to be born, a sin that is unfathomable to me. Services get cut
every day and parents have to become aggressive advocates within our school
back to a post I wrote last year. This post was a response to a few comments I received from â€œA
prom like no otherâ€ and helped me focus on what life for Alex should look
like after high school and beyond.
college career I have thought about this past post often. It is called Community
and to me brings home the message that every person of every ability should
feel welcome and included in their community. To me that is what we have worked
for all these years, and will continue to work for as Alex gets older, a life
just like mine, just like her siblings and just like her peers.
Aquatics Meet. She has improved since last year and managed to snag a third
(freestyle) a second (4×100 Relay) and a first in the backstroke. John and I
are quite amazed at Alexâ€™s backstroke; she swam straight with perfectly
coordinated hands and legs. She had never really mastered the backstroke until
this year. Kudos again to her unbelievable coaches.
The Special Olympics is one of Alexâ€™s many communities and a very important
part of her life. Lately I have been obsessed with Alexâ€™s prom experience and
my concern about the schoolâ€™s suggestion Alex ask her Special Olympic girl
friends to attend with her. I have analyzed and overanalyzed my aversion to
this suggestion, and in the end have accepted my gut feeling, this was not
an acceptable solution for Alex, at that time and place.
In my quest to understand, I keep returning to the idea of community, and
particularly an â€œinclusive communityâ€. I try to reconcile this idea of
community with Alex, and I keep arriving at the same place, a philosophy
of a sense of belonging for my remarkable daughter. Alex is just as
deserving of a community, or communities as anyone else. A community who values
the gifts Alex brings and does not focus on her disabilities.
Furthermore, this is what Alex wants, she speaks of belonging and when she is
excluded her mood, her smile and her health cry for the opportunity to feel
included. The following definition of community is taken from Making Life
Choices by Margaret Betz
is a way of relating to other persons as brothers and sisters who share a
common origin, a common dignity, and a common destiny. Community involves
learning to live in terms of an interconnected “we” more than an
isolated “I’. It involves making choices which reinforce the experience of
relatedness and foster the sense of belonging and interdependence. Community
begins, but does not end, in our face to face relationships with the persons
who are closest to us.
We are all parts of many communities and bring diversity to each one. For
example I am part of the Hughes family, but we are the ones who live in
Colorado and have the daughter with down syndrome. I am part of the Bender
family, but the only catholic in the clan. I am part of my college community,
friends from 30 years ago who are still bound by four common years of learning
and growing, my gift is living in the best place to visit. The list
goes on and on, the tennis community in our valley, past work associates from
various employers and so many more.
Having a sense of belonging is my vision for Alex, Courtney and Tom.
Alex’s IEP has goals in place to assure she has the tools to advocate for
herself to realize this dream. For example, I believe speech articulation and
conversational skills are important for Alex and I argue for more speech
therapy every year. I believe social skills are important for Alex and I argue
for peer groups each year. Basic reading and math are important and I argue for
tougher reading and math goals each year. Alex loves sports and I argue for
play time on the basketball team each year. This may seem like a lot of work on
my part, but it is not, the reward far exceeds the effort.
However, these are the tactics, not the results. The results are in the
communities Alex chooses for her life. Just like us, Alex can choose to
participate or not in any community, this is a basic human right, whether or
not she has a disability. It is her decision, no one elseâ€™s, our job is to
facilitate these choices for Alex.
Alex is a member of the Special Olympics Community. It is an inclusive
community, everyone who wants to join can, in whatever capacity is appropriate.
Each event is attended and supported by coaches, volunteer, families and in
many cases the local population. Everyone feels a sense of belonging, where the
athletes are supported by everyone, and an individualâ€™s inabilities are never
mentioned. The athletes are praised; the coaches appreciated and the parents
proud. I am a part of that community and feel a profound sense of belonging and
Alex is a member of the WindWalkers Community, where she rides and volunteers.
WindWalkers has a similar approach as the Special Olympics; this community
includes families, peers with and without disabilities and a staff that is
inclusive and supportive. We have all become part of the WindWalkers family.
Alex feels important and contributing and I feel a special sense of belonging
with this community.
Alex is part of the Hughes and Bender family Communities. Once again she is
included and valued for what she brings to the family. No one ever
underestimates her; she makes her own decisions, voices her own opinions and is
known as the â€œfunny oneâ€. She brings so many gifts to our families and we learn
from her every day.
Alex is also a part of her High School Community. She participates in the
school plays, attends three regular Ed classes (with support) and loves to
attend and be a member of sports events. Alexâ€™s IEP is written to support her
in theses activities and ensure her success. Her teachers work hard to
implement her goals and most of the time Alex feels she belongs.
High School is an unusually difficult community for many teenagers, kids will
naturally create sub groups as they begin to understand social norms and
experiment with their meaning. Natural exclusion occurs and it is a difficult
time for many students including Alex. Alex recognizes this and like many
teenagers subconsciously avoids situations which will make her feel different.
She wants to fit in, and although self confidence and independence is
extremely important for her, we try to facilitate inclusive community
opportunities for Alex.
The prom is the perfect example of this, Alexâ€™s desire, just like all teenagers
was to attend the prom with her peer group. These are the people in her high
school community who should make her feel valued and included. These people
exist occasionally in Alexâ€™s high school, but the idea of consistency in these
relationships is not implemented, and that is where my gut reaction kicked in.
Alex did not want to create a sub community within her high school group. She
did not want to invite people from her other communities, the Special Olympics
or others. Alex rightfully desired to go to her High School prom with her high
school community. Why should her desires be different than anyone elseâ€™s? Why
should her opinion be dishonored? My simple answer, they should not be.
I try to understand the High Schoolâ€™s opinion that Alex ask her Special Olympic
friends to attend the prom with her. They rightfully believe Alex feels
included and confident with these girls. Despite the usual girl pouting
episodes, like all teenage girls, these girls are supportive and encouraging of
each other. But there is a difference, these girls are not part of Alexâ€™s high
school community, nor do they want to be, they attend their own high schools,
My angry response to this request came from frustration, not any desire to
disrespect the friendship these girls share. Very simply, Alex wanted to go to
the prom with her peers. Equally simply, she did not have the opportunity. From
my perspective this was due to poor planning and a last minute recognition
Alexâ€™s IEP was not being followed.
In many ways Alex is a part of her high school community. Every student and
teacher in her small rural high school knows Alex. When walking down the hall
with Alex I hear â€œhi Alexâ€ from every other student and teacher. Her
teachers and the administration care about Alex, monitor her education and
teach her as well as they can.
But there is one part of Alexâ€™s participation in her high school community that
we need to work on, the community is not inclusive, Saying hi to Alex is not
enough. All kids, with and without disabilities should be invited to
participate with their peer groups on the sports team or in their school proms,
no matter the abilities. It should not be such a struggle for Alex or any student
to feel included. As previously quoted: ”community begins, but does
not end, in our face to face relationshipsâ€ there is more to a community than
acknowledging a member, it is about accepting the member.
This idea of an inclusive community is a change in the approach
and support every student is entitled to receive to succeed as adults. I
know Alex wants to feel included in every one of her communities, just like me
and just like her peers with and without disabilities. In my humble view, this
is a basic human right.
It is not beyond my sense of irony to recognize Alexâ€™s song for the talent show
â€œThatâ€™s what Friends are forâ€ from the Jungle book relates directly to the