Witnessing the birth of our first grandchild, Kaleb, I was nervous, concerned, and most of all proud! Prior to birth, reports of concern with the baby?s growth, and Sara?s stress tests put up a red flag. The quick delivery, his body tremors, body temperature, and breathing concerns didn’t quite register fully. All I saw was a beautiful baby boy, so tiny and perfect. As the hospital stay lengthened, the look on the faces of the nurses and doctors, and most of all the blood tests signaled to me, as a special education teacher, that something wasn’t quite right. I immediately looked at Kaleb for signs of something. Down Syndrome briefly crossed my mind, but I wouldn’t let myself think about it. I would wait until the test results. In the meantime, our love for Kaleb exploded!
Two weeks later, Kaleb went for his check-up, and test results. I paced the house waiting for their return. The look on Sara and John’s faces confirmed that something was wrong. When they told me that he had Down Syndrome, I said, “That?s OK. We love him!” I meant it with all my heart!! If anything would have happened to him, if he were taken away from us, I knew that it would be unbearable. My mind was racing. I quietly thanked God that he wasn’t dying or didn’t have all the other things wrong with him that I’ve come across in 30 some years of teaching Special Education. However, knowing the long road ahead of him, I began to worry about the physical complications that could accompany Down Syndrome. Doctor appointments, a trip to Hershey, and evaluations followed. By some miracle, Kaleb was spared any physical complications. His breathing did cause concern, especially at night. Sleeping upright in his car seat seemed to help. Frequent nighttime checks to make sure that he was breathing was necessary. A trip to Geisinger relieved some anxiety about his breathing.
To his benefit, Kaleb was treated and raised like a normal developing baby. Eye contact, cooing and going, imitating sounds, words (da-da, ma-ma) looked normal and he developed these skills early. Getting his first tooth, and watching him play with other children of close friends of Sara made things look right. Getting him to roll over, sit up, crawl and walk didn’t seem unusual, until recently watching his baby brother develop these skills so easily and naturally. I now realize how hard Kaleb worked to get through each step, but at the time I only applauded his success and looked forward to the next stage of development. Even though I taught over 25 children with Down Syndrome, plus every other disability possible, I only had experience with students from Kindergarten through sixth grade. Kaleb and his therapists were teaching me the missing pieces. Watching his therapists teach him to eat, use a cup, and silverware, teach him to crawl, sit up, walk, step over objects, run, climb and jump was fascinating.
Skipping over the vision problems, tonsil operation, and constant colds, I see Kaleb having lots of potential. His love of books, his great memory, sense of humor and emerging problem solving skills, good speech and social skills, and his easy going nature are strengths that are going to help him be successful in life. I see his need for friendship to be with both normal developing children and other children with disabilities.
In the future, I see a regular education inclusion classroom with modifications and adaptations to the curriculum and adult assistance. I can see him be successful with Distar Arithmetic, and SRA Direct Instruction Reading Programs. I?d like to see him master the Language for Learning Program before Reading Mastery. A good sight word program like the Edmark Sight Vocabulary Program has been successful with many of my students with disabilities. Handwriting Without Tears has been successful for both printing and cursive with most of my students. I would like him to be a part of supervised independent living, such as the State College Area School District Dream Team, which is affiliated through the ARC of Center County and their Life Link Program. The Penn State Mentor Program allows students with disabilities to attend college classes and build friendships with non-disabled students their own age. I see Kaleb taking part in this program after graduation.
Written by Christine Poorman, Learning Support Teacher
State College Area School District and Grandparent of Kaleb Brownson