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Monday, April 10, 2006

...Enough smart people...

The scene: Story time at the library

The characters: Librarian, grandmother w/2 grandsons, Kayla & me (small group today!)

Kayla was all over the place at story time today - just didn't want to sit still; thank goodness it was such a small group. She sat on the grandmother's lap, tried to hug one of the boys, hugged the librarian...you get the picture.

After the 2 stories have been read the grandmother commented on how active Kayla was, must keep me busy, bet I can't take my eyes off her from the moment she's awake in the morning etc.

Then she asks me, "Does she learn pretty well?" *I may not have that word-for-word, but "learn" and "well" were in the sentence.

Me, surprised by the question, "yes she does."

Librarian, "Does she have Down syndrome?"

Me, "yes"

Grandmother, "Oh I could tell she did. It looks like she doesn't have it too bad though. Do you know how severe it is?"

Me (caught off guard) "well she's only 2..." What I wanted to keep saying was something to educate that Down syndrome itself isn't "severe" or not - there are not varying degrees of the syndrome - you have it or you don't. And Kayla has it in every cell of her body. Now each person with Down syndrome is affected somewhat differently - some have health problems, some don't etc...just like everyone in the typical population are all different.

But before I could think to say anything else the librarian said, "And there is such a difference of severity and with the learning disabilities. One thing I've learned (she made it sound like she "learned" this at some conference or something and that it was really important) is that people with Down syndrome are 1) stubborn and 2) loveable. This world has enough smart people in it, what we need are more people like that - who are good huggers." Ok I'm sure she was meaning this in a good way. She was probably meaning the world could use more compassionate, caring, good-hearted individuals, which I agree with! But couldn't she have said that instead of saying the world has enough smart people? Was it supposed to be some sort of compliment?

And there I sit saying nothing when I should be educating and advocating! Why oh why can't I speak up and say what's on my mind? Why can't I step out of my comfort zone? I just kind of let the comment go and we went to do our craft.

Working on the craft I kept thinking when the grandmother asked if she learns well I should have said she can recognize all the letters in the alphabet. I just felt like I had to prove something now, to show that yes she CAN learn. I wanted to change whatever opinions they had. We were putting eyes on the bunnies we were making and the librarian was asking Kayla where her eyes were, of course she only pointed to those googly eyes instead of her own. So again, feeling the need to just prove something I said, "Kayla where's your nose?" (she points to her nose), "where's your elbow?" (I have to get that one on video cause it's so cute to hear her say it) and she pointed and said it. The grandmother made some comment about "oh she is learning so well" and I said, "yeah she can even recognize the letters of the alphabet." Gee do you think she was impressed someone with Down syndrome actually learned her letters? (yes I'm being sarcastic.)

So on the way home I kept thinking about the comment, "we have enough smart people in the world..." Ok just what is that supposed to mean anyway? Is my daughter not smart because she has Down syndrome? No I don't have rose-colored glasses on, no I'm not being naive, no I'm not delusional. I know most people with Down syndrome fall into the "mild to moderate" range on the IQ scales. But there are actually individuals with Down syndrome who don't fall into the "below average" IQ range. But that's beside the point.

There are many ways you can be "smart" and it doesn't have to be based on IQ #s. You can be 'book' smart, 'street' smart, 'people' smart etc. So how smart is "smart enough"? And what does it all matter anyway?

The more I was thinking about her comment the more I wish I had thought to say,

Well Kayla is smart in her own right too you know. She's only 2.5 yrs old but she's been "smart" enough to:
learn her letters,
know the animal sounds for dog, cat, owl, sheep, snake, cow, horse, duck and can identify those plus many more other animals in books,
learn 100+ words in sign language,
identify different foods in picture books,
figure out to pull her little chair up to my computer desk to climb on it to reach her crayons (to be blogged about in a future post!)
to put puzzles back together,
to put shapes in a shape sorter,
to point to at least 17 body parts (head, hair, eyes, nose, ears, mouth, elbow, knee, belly, back, toes, arm, hands, fingers, tounge, teeth, cheeks)
to know where the "good" snacks are kept (i.e. crackers and cookies!),
to know which shoes are hers, mine, and her daddy's
to start recognizing colors,
to know the difference between the DVD covers of "Signing Time", "Your Baby Can Read" & "Boz"
to know the difference between happy and sad faces,
to do hand motions to "Itsy Bitsy Spider", "If You're Happy & You Know It", "Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes", "Patty Cake", "Row, Row Row You're Boat," "Ring Around the Rosy", & "Rock A Bye Baby"
to identify/say 7 articles of clothing (socks, shoes, diaper, pants, shirt, coat & hat)

I really could go on and on about all this little girl of mine has learned.

Do you think spending a day with Kayla would show her that she's much more than a good "hugger" and so are all people with Down syndrome? That there are more to their personalities then being "stubborn" and "loveable"?


mmk1215@aol.com said...

Michelle, YOU GO GIRL!!! Oh great daughter of mine. Now you will have the confidence to say what you just said in the blog!!! We all have different ways in which we learn and the rate in which we learn them...We are all stubborn, loveable and moody " She, Kayla,has an outstanding MEMORY!!! and , yes, the Librarian and the Grandmother were ignorant, so next time, Be The Teacher!!!!!!! :) love Mom and Aunt Debbie

Anonymous said...

Well, with this story in mind, I am going to post my experience today-check out my blog in a bit.

I would honestly like to say that I hope this is the last such experience we have, but sadly, it probably won't be.

Mom/Mil/GM said...

All I can say at this moment is I'm darned glad I wasn't there or the Librarian and Grandmother would have heard more than they wanted to!! Was I ignorant about Down Syndrome when our precious Kayla was born you bet, but I solved that problem and starting getting an education and learn more and more all of the time. One of the biggest things I've learned is this world has to many labels!! NO ONE should have to wear a label no matter if they have MS, Csytic Fibrosis, Down Syndrome, etc. We all learn to the extent of our God given abilities and that's it, no more no less. I know I'm not saying this the way I want but bottom line is I'm appalled at the ignorance of these two woman and the saying ignorance breeds ignorance comes into mind where they are concerned.

Tammy and Parker said...

I know it didn't happen in the way you would have liked, but I do think that your beautiful girl did change a couple of minds about what little ones with Down syndrome can do. Some people just haven't had the opportunity to spend enough time with our guys to realize how truly amazing they are. These people have to rely on their experience base and go with what they have 'heard'. It is very unfortunate. But I believe we set examples and that people learn from us in ways and at times that we have no idea that someone was even paying attention.

I'm sorry about this experience. But just think! You learned something too! You learned how to articulate what your heart feels and next time you will be that teacher. =)

And it certainly sounds like you have a great support group! Yeah!

Now, if I could just get myself to quit lying when people at the hospital see Parker and say things like...."What a sweet baby. What is he, about six months?" "Yup", I always reply with a smile on my face. It is so much easier than going into the whole story. hee,hee

Kris said...

I you Michelle for not commiting murder! I admit to not knowing a lot about Downs Syndrome - other than what I learned when working with Best Buddies, but c'mon. People are ignorant and rude. I have a hard time watching my mouth - I'd have probably come
back with something along the lines of "You know, the world has enough mean and ignorant people too, yet here you are."

I look at Kayla and see a beautiful little girl. With that blonde hair and air of innocence that only a small child has - she's like a small, precious angel. I've seen pics and video clips - and that smile can light up a room.

Climbing on my soapbox.... We're all given different gifts, abilities, and challenges in this life. God made us with infinite care and wisdom. Each one is more perfect in his or her own way than we have the capacity to understand. Will Kayla having Downs Syndrome drastically shape the course of her life? Yes, but I'd argue that that was the master plan. Not every child will be a Nobel laureate, some change the world in more subtle ways, each according to their unique gifts. She's only 2 and a half - how much has she taught all of you so far? ... climbing down

Barbara said...

Hi Michelle - I'm a buddy of your MIL's. And I can so relate to what you wrote. I have two sons who now are 13 and 11 - they both are deaf. And I too get the most interesting questions from people. The funniest was when we were in Borders and this purple-haired teenager looked at my older son's hearing aids and said "cool earbobs".

Then I get all the time "oh - isn't American Sign Language so beautiful" - sheesh! My boys both communicate orally.

When they were little (and had less hair), I would get so many questions, particularly living in a small town. At first, I think because I was so raw emotionally, it was hard to not respond in a defensive and angry way. But then I realized - like you said - that I need to be educating folks so that's what I do now. In fact now, I just have the boys tell them what's up. They are their own best advocates I think.

My older son, Tom, recently earned his black belt in taekwondo. We're all so very proud of him! The local newspaper got wind of it and interviewed him over the weekend. Interesting - the reporter called me and asked (to his credit, apologetically) if he'd be able to communicate with Tom. I think he was surprised and amazed how conversant Tom IS. At the end of the interview, the reporter asked Tom if there's anything he can't do. Tom grinned and said "without my implant and hearing aid, I can't hear!". 'nuff said I think...

Hang in - I know just exactly how you feel!

Barbara (your MIL is my evil twin!)

Michelle said...

Thank you everyone for taking the time to comment and venting with me :) I know their comments were just said out of ignorance, now I just have to start having responses ready for the next time!

Barbara & Kris - thanks for stopping by! Please feel free to visit/comment anytime :)

Jess said...

WOW! She's way smarted than alot of two years old I know!! You go, Mama!! But I think I would have totally been caught of guard, too.
I just found you & I think I'm going all thae way back & reading all your posts. You're a great writer & mama! I look forward to reading all of this!
You can find me at http:www.omamamia.com

Leah said...

Great post!