Monday, December 8, 2008

Yeah, it's like that

"What is Down syndrome, really? Is it like a learning disability?"

Talk about your loaded question. This is the one placed before me at a local holiday train display. The volunteer running the model trains was a 71-year-old man with a great-grandson also named Caden. He approached me about my Caden, asking how old he was and commenting on his size. I respond that Caden is big for a typical boy his age, much less one with Down syndrome. Children with DS are usually smaller than their peers and even have their own growth chart to reflect that. But at this rate, Caden will grow to be taller than me or The Tank. Because I've mentioned DS, I know I have opened the door for related questions from this stranger. Sometimes I feel like a person wants to ask about it but doesn't know how so this is my way to say it's okay. Indeed the volunteer does accept my unspoken offer but comes at me with a question I've never been asked before: is Down syndrome like a learning disability?

"Well, it's caused by an extra chromosome..." I start but he is nodding his head in a way that says "yada yada yada, I know all that".

"It's a random occurrence..." I continue as his head continues to nod.

"Being a syndrome, there is a wide range in the way it is expressed in an individual..." Still the head-nod. In his mind, he is probably fast-forwarding me.

"But in nearly all cases there are the characteristic facial features and some degree of mental retardation." Finally he smiles as I approach some meatiness.

"Anymore with the amount of therapies and stimulation, Early Intervention, better schooling and medical care, the MR is generally mild to moderate. Caden is very bright. He knows all his letters, colors, and shapes. I stopped counting his signing vocabulary when he hit 200 words. He can read over 40 words and is starting to learn numbers. He will learn to read and write and do math. He CAN learn, he just learns at a slower pace or sometimes in a different way." As I hear my own answer, I realize I have talked his question to death. I could have answered it much simply so I backtrack.

"Yes," I finally declare, "I guess it is like a learning disability."

The more I've thought about that conversation, the more I like that way of thinking. Mental retardation sounds scary, clinical and something with which most people may not have experience. But a learning disability...well, heck even Tom Cruise has a learning disability. That makes it more approachable and familiar, different but okay. It doesn't sound like such a big deal to say that his extra chromosome has given Caden beautiful almond eyes and a learning disability. Over simplistic, yes, but still I like this great-grandfather's perception.

1 comment:

WheresMyAngels said...

I hope his growth does continue, I have known some very tall people with DS but for some of our kids, they start out doing so well on the typical chart them fall off of it. My friends daughter was on the 90% typical chart for years but now is on the 50%. Cheyenne was at the 50% forever but now has pretty much stopped growing at age 16 she is 5'1. I was so hoping she would hit 5'5 at least. Not sure why that is that they would start lagging behind when they were ahead.