Having a Child with Down Syndrome, Part LXX: Learning Both In and Out of the Classroom

Copyright © 2013 Stephen Hawley, all rights reserved.

Last night, I sat down and guided Alice through her homework.  This can be a challenge because assignments come home without expectations of how the assignment should be done or to what extent.  Alice had some spelling words to do that were marked “3 x”, so I had her rote copy the word from an exemplar of each word.  She did well – she had trouble on the word ‘hundred’, but I expected her to have trouble.  All the other words were between three and 5 letters.  Here’s Alice working on it:

She did a good job with the eraser and was clearly working hard to do the handwriting.

Stuart had reported that he felt that some kids weren’t treating Alice well on the playground (his class and hers share recess time), so I offered to come to his class and read one of his favorite books, “My Sister Alicia May” by Nancy Tupper Ling, with his help.  I cleared it with the teacher and then Stuart and I talked about how he wanted it to work.  He wanted to sit next to me and help read (I could tell he was looking forward to reading, “Hiya, stinky butt!” as loudly as possible) I also asked if he wanted to bring in some old pictures of Alice.  He picked some from when he was a newborn and Alice was meeting him for the first time:

Gazing Lovingly

among others, including a picture of Alice when she was an infant, because it reminded him of one of the pictures in Alicia May:

DSC00024_7After going through the pictures, I asked them questions about how they thought Alice was different and the class gave some pretty good observations (her speech, her walking, her orthotics).  Stuart pointed out that she’s different because “she has Down syndrome and she had a stroke”.  I asked if anyone knew what it meant to have Down syndrome and they didn’t, so I went to the DNA explanation.  Some kids had heard of DNA, but didn’t understand it so I used my chapter book metaphor – every cell in our body has a book in it that describes how we’re built.  Our books have 23 chapters in them and each chapter has two parts: a beginning and an end.  Then I explained that Alice’s book is different in chapter 21.  Instead of two parts, it has three: a beginning, a middle, and an end, but even though that chapter is different, Alice is more like all of us than different.  She walks, talks, reads, and has feelings just like all of us.  Stuart and I fielded open questions from the kids.  My favorite of the set was “why does Alice give such gentle high fives?”

It appeared that the questions and their attention were waning, so I thanked them for letting me come into their classroom and share with them, and with prompting, they thanked me.  Stuart gave me a big hug and a kiss.  His teacher expected that there would be further questions and asked me if I would be willing to come back or answer them if they were sent home. Of course.

And now you see how I’ve become an advocate and how I’ve tried to create a classroom full of tiny advocates today.