Thursday, April 12, 2007

LOVING A DOWN'S SYNDROME CHILD

You can repeat a memorized truth heard because you believe it in your head; when you know it in your heart you tell others with a conviction that transcends belief.

I have known for years that children with Down's Syndrome are wonderful, but it is a truth I repeated because I was sure it was correct. Today, my heart opened to a boy with Down's Syndrome, and I know for a fact that Down's Syndrome children are pure delights.

Our school has a boy with Down's Syndrome in its Special Education program. He is in the fifth grade, is very small for his age, and everyone has great difficulty understanding him because of his language development. His mother, a very protective parent, finally acquiesed to the idea that her son be "mainstreamed" into a regular education classroom, and she chose mine. I made what I hoped was a powerful speech to my students about his physical problems and asked them to embrace this boy with warm frienship, thoughtfulness, and enthusiasm.

Our whole class has quickly grown to love little Stevie. The first thing we noticed was that he made friends with all the girls in the classroom, and the boys were somewhat envious of his willingness to hug and associate with the girls. I remember jokingly telling the class that he may have some academic and language problems, but he seemed to be more advanced in the boy/girl area. They all agreed.

Today little Stevie was walking with us to the cafeteria for lunch, and he had his left hand cupped over his left ear. I spoke to him, but he didn't respond. I spoke to him again, but again he didn't say anything. Then I noticed he was talking to himself. One of the astute and observant girls he adores informed me, "Mr. R., Stevie is talking on his cell phone."

I realized that Stevie was pretending to be engrossed in an imaginative phone conversation with someone on his cell phone hand. He would listen for an appropriate amount of time, respond with his animated gibberish, and was totally engrossed in his pretend conversation. He even glanced at his imaginative wristwatch to check the time, like a businessman takin' care o' business. He would listen and reply, then listen and reply.

I suddenly felt a love for this little fellow, and I knew I would be willing to die for him. It was an unusual and very private thought, but worth opening up about and passing onto you.

He didn't hang up his phone or turn it off; his conversation just abruptly ended, and he grinned his joyful grin at me, and I said, "You have a great smile, Stevie!" I didn't understand his reply, but I can tell you this. I used to say, "Children with Down's Syndrome are wonderful people," I said that because I believed it to be true. Now I can tell you for a fact, they are. I know it in my heart.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your heart-stirring and insightful blog, Walter.

Aaron Marks said...

I wish there were more people with your compassion in the world.

Laura said...

Delicious post. Sorry no comments from me but I was busy. I have a wheaten terrier...

I love your writing. I promise to try to write more so that I can plead for more writing from you.