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Thursday, 16 December 2010

My Son The Artist: Expectations from a Child with Down Syndrome

Written by  Susie Feder

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(Part I, written in 2000. See the whole series.)

My son is 15 years old. He was born with Down Syndrome. In the last 15 years I have amassed enough stories to fill volumes. However, right now I want to just stick to the topic of: Expectations.

When Joshua was born the doctors advised us to not "waste our time, energy or money." They claimed that our son would never amount to anything. They told us he would never walk, talk or toilet train. Lucky for us and for our son we were not about to accept that prognosis. However, we weren't really sure what to expect.

Therefore, we expected him to develop at his own pace, with a lot of help and stimulation, but to develop nonetheless. We decided that as long as we saw progress we could never give up.

There is never a dull moment when raising a child who is "different." The lows can be quite low, but the highs are really high. Our expectations must be realistic but what is realistic can differ greatly from one person to the next and even for the same individual at different times in his life.

Very early on we knew in our hearts that we had to have high expectations, but how high? We could not set goals for him (or for any other child, for that matter) that he could not ever possibly reach. However, if we did not have high hopes, the chances would be very slim for him to work to his potential.

I would like to illustrate this point with a story.

When Joshua was four-and-a-half years old he was mainstreamed into a "regular" preschool. His younger sister, C.J., was three and attended the same preschool in a younger class. The school ran an art contest and all the children submitted pictures. The pictures were hung on the wall and the president of the synagogue where the school was located, who was not personally familiar with the children, was the judge.

On the day of the contest I made an effort to see C.J.'s picture as it was being hung, but Joshua's class pictures were not yet up and I did not think twice about seeing his picture before leaving the building. You see, I had no expectation for Joshua to win; it was enough for me to know that he was able to draw a picture and have it displayed with those of the other children.

Joshua winning? I am ashamed to admit that I did not even consider the possibility.

Well, when I returned to pick up the kids you can imagine my surprise to discover that Joshua was the winner from his class! He was so proud and excited, he told everyone, "I won the contest! I made it! I made a tree!"

C.J. kept insisting that she won too and it was certainly a special feeling to know that Joshua had accomplished something that his sister could not.

After that I decided to keep my expectations high. It seems that most people work up to whatever expectations are set for them.

Why should Joshua be any different?

Last modified on Monday, 05 March 2012 13:48
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Susie Feder

Susie Feder is a nurse midwife at Sha'arei Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem.

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