Today, when I pick Evelyn up from her summer program, I have the pleasure of reading the following note from her teacher:
“Evelyn had a good day…She counted her friends and teachers. She said there were 10 people – which was correct. We read the book ‘Old MacDonald Had A Farm’ and she told us the sounds of all the animals.”
When we recieved Evelyn’s diagnosis, one of my greatest concerns was that she wouldn’t be like our family. She wouldn’t look like us. She wouldn’t fit in with us. She wouldn’t be like us. I was especially concerned that she wouldn’t be smart. I come from an intelligent family. My identity was firmly rooted in my intellect. I found a learned mind to be the most admirable quality one could possess. I was constantly praising Brady for his intelligence. I often worried how I would relate to this child who can’t learn? How would I praise her? I wouldn’t be able to say, “You are so smart! I’m proud of you!”
Therefore, I had to take a hard look at myself. I’d always looked down on other’s who placed the highest value in beauty or athleticism, but was my point of view any less small minded? I spent a lot of time before Evelyn was born rewriting my definition of human value. I was surprised to find so many other admirable attributes. I began noticing and appreciating patience, humor, kindness, and thoughtfulness in others as much, and sometimes even more, than intellegence. I learned a valuable lesson: There is no singular trait or attribute that is more valuable than the others. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, and the value is in what we do with them. I am thankful for this change in perspective. It adds dimension to my relationships and my life. I’m glad I was pushed to take this journey by her diagnosis. I hope anyone who is living in a small world, like I was, is given the opportunity to expand their horizons.
Yes, my concern for Evelyn’s lack of intelligence changed me and I am grateful I took that journey, but I was wrong – Evelyn is smart. People with Down syndrome are smart. People with Down syndrome can learn. Sometimes in a different way, or at a different pace, but that can be said of many people. While I want to encourage others to find value in more than intelligence, I also want to assure you there is no need to count out intellect when it comes to someone with Down syndrome. Evelyn can sign at least fifty signs. She can read the alphabet, count to ten, and identify her colors and shapes. She sight reads dozens of words. That’s pretty good for even a typical three year old. Granted, it didn’t come as easily as with her brother, and her sister is rapidly gaining on her. That is why I am especially proud of how determined she is. She never quits. She just keeps trying. When I feel frustrated or overwhelmed, I think of Evelyn, and I carry on. She is inspiring.
So today, I read the note from her teacher and I say without hesitation, “You are so smart! I’m so proud of you!” and I mean it.