October 13, 2010

Verb 9 – Practice Healthy Skepticism

After Alex was born I actively, and during our research stage, sought out parents of older children with down syndrome. I read as much as I could and made what seemed like, millions of phone calls. I wanted to know exactly what Alex's life would be like, and what I, as a parent of a child with special needs, needed to do to prepare us for the world.

The parents I met were helpful and hopeful. The common theme was "treat her just like a normal child”. This turned out to be the best advice by far, as I spoke of in the previous chapter, I expect Alex to act and behave just like her sister and brother. Sometimes she does not, but I expect it anyway.

As far as literature, I learned that any book that was copyrighted before 1990 was potentially suspect. I believe that in the 80's a silent revolution occurred in the research materials around down syndrome, as well as in the lives of children with special needs. Parents became actively involved in their children's education, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was passed in 1990 and children with special needs became more "mainstream”, think Chris Burke in "Sesame Street" and "Life Goes On".

This revolution did not happen by chance, and it is certainly not over, but is has changed our literature and our expectations. The revolution was supported by the evolution of the internet and the access to the wealth of information available. Blogs, personal stories and the web-based pages of the national and local down syndrome support groups have improved all of our abilities to learn. I am incredibly grateful for this - and will always do my part to carry this message of promise to the next group of parents.

I learned very quickly that I know Alex best. I am the one that practices expect the best, and others may not. To me this means others expectations of Alex are based on erroneous facts, experiences from years ago when early intervention programs did not exist and ignorance. Very simply put, I am skeptical of many of the insights Alex’s educators share. I am also aware many of these insights are correct, I try to always practice healthy skepticism, and maintain and positive and helpful attitude about Alex and her capabilities.

The perfect example of this is the IQ test. At some point in the life of a child with special needs, an educator will do an IQ test. This is one of the dumbest indicators of anything I have ever come across. However it is one of those silly things that are mandated to “classify” a child, which in turn is needed to provide services. Ridiculous, if you ask me.

Alex does not perform on command; she sees no utility in random tests and usually does not cooperate. This does not bother me one bit, but it does produce the lowest IQ scores you can imagine. If I followed her IQ level she would be unable to perform the basic skills needed in life.

Following are the Alex can and cannot dos. Once again her IQ level would indicate that many of these competencies are impossible based of her IG level. I argue differently.

As of this year, Alex’s 17th, Alex can:

Personal matters
• dress herself
• brush her teeth and hair
• attend to all personal matters i.e. showers, girl stuff

• Read and comprehend at a 3rd -4th grade level
• Add, subtract, multiply and divide at a 3rd -4th grade level
• Memorize her class schedule
• Navigate the busy hallways at school to get to all her classes on time
• Unlock her school and gym lockers
• Bring home oral messages from her teachers
• Participate in science labs, presentations etc...

Sports (not necessarily well)
• Ski
• Basketball, soccer, tennis, softball
• Run, skip, hop and jump
• Bowling
• Horseback riding
• Ice skate (when she was younger)

Other life skills
• Express her needs and wants
• Clean her room/make her bed
• Do her laundry
• Prepare all her meals (microwave as needed)
• Count money
• Find her way home
• Stay home by herself
• Cross the street
• Recognize "stranger danger"

Alex cannot - as of today:

Personal Matters (can’t think of any)

• Stay focused when she does not understand the subject matter
• Understand reading materials beyond 5th grade (she can read but not comprehend)
• Do algebra or geometry problems

• Ride a two wheeler bicycle

Other Life skills
• Drive a car
• Take the public bus without supervision
• Monitor her food intake

I do not want to give the wrong impression. Alex is delayed in almost everything, for instance she did not dress herself until she was four, but she does it. She did not shower by herself until she was seven, but she does it now. I am so incredibly proud of all Alex has and will achieve in her life.

I trust myself, my daughter and my intuition when I read or hear of things that children and adults with down syndrome can’t or will never be able to do. It is my healthy skepticism, brought to fruition through research, understanding and expecting the best that has proven this to me time and time again. Alex can and will do whatever she wants, and if she can’t, she will learn how to compensate.


  1. Compensation is an important skill.

    Put that for your next verb, I hope (or is it in the other verbs).

    It's important to look around the daily life.

  2. Your blog is so helpful to me.Great post!
    I'm glad to see that my thoughts of treating my Ruby just like I treat my other children is along the right lines:)

  3. Thanks Ruby's Mom and Adelaide - yes the only real difference I have found between Alex and her peers...it just takes longer. Some skills Alex will never master - but so waht!

  4. I'm glad to read about Alex being able to stay home alone. I know we're a few years off from that, but boy! I can hardly wait!
    I'd love to know what criteria you used to decide to give her the latitude to be alone. I imagine that it's the same that you used for your other children.
    I guess the next step for us is getting better at dialing the phone.


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