Friday, February 15, 2013

High Expecations

When my oldest daughter was less than a year old, she sat her in grandpa's lap as he worked on a word puzzle in the newspaper. She picked up his pencil, and started to draw. What resulted was our stunning realization that this kid LOVED to draw. Instead of waiting until she was older for markers, coloring pencils, and crayons, I made sure she always had enough drawing material on supply. Because of how her birthday fell, she missed the school cutoff by about a month. Instead of holding her back, we got her tested and she entered Kindergarten at 4.

The test results to get her into kindergarten showed that she had the handwriting of an 8 year old, and she had attention to detail of an 8 year old as well. Not bad for a four year old! Completely self taught, she has gone on to paint, and draw, and then work on a computer tablet doing her artwork.

This is one of the pictures she was working on a few years ago.
She is now 22 years old and still loves art.

Our second daughter really wowed us with her learning. In 1st grade she was coming home spelling words like Independence and America. When we started to homeschool her she was working a grade above her own.
These were her test results at the start of third grade...

When I was pregnant with my third daughter I started to read out-loud to her when I was pregnant with her. I would read poetry. I would talk to her, I would read books to her, all before she was even born. I continued this after she was born, every day we would sit and read books, I would talk to her, sing to her, when I would put her in the swings I would count every single push. By the time she was 1 years old, she was counting to 20, knew all her colors, and could talk in full and complete sentences. She enjoyed talking and singing so much that she would talk/sing herself to sleep by a year old.

As she grew, we introduced her to music, she plays the piano and the flute.

Now she is in accelerated classes doing the International Baccalaureate program. She is in 10th grade, doing college level work in many of her classes. 

With all our girls having everything so easy, imagine our surprise when we had our son and he did not talk until he was around 4 years old!! Nope, no special needs, no hearing loss. The doctors said it was more than likely he was just going to a thinker and be the quiet type. But him not talking, didn't stop us from teaching him, of talking to him, of working with him. I would take walks with him, and point out things as we walked. "Look, there are three cows with spots in that field, one of them is a solid color. If you take the three cows with spots, and the one without the spots and put them all together, how many would you have?" Conversations like this were normal place for us. Once shortly after he had started talking (when he did start talking it was in full and complete sentences), we were outside and he asked me for a math problem. Being that he had just turned four, I wanted to give him something kind of easy since he did not have the objects ahead of him to count on. I said... what is two plus two? He looked at me and sighed, and asked for a bigger number. Thinking I could trick him, I said, "Ok, what is 8 + 8". He did not answer for about 3 minutes. By this time I had started talking about something else thinking we had moved on and we could change topics. He looked at me and said "16". I asked him what he was talking about. He replied, "8+8=16" I was floored. He had added that in his head! By the time he was in the 1st grade he could beat me at chess!
Now he is in the 9th grade, does 10th grade math and science and is in advanced English class as well. He plans on being an architect.

Then in the summer of 2012, we brought home two little bundles of joy from Eastern Europe. Our little girl was 12 months old, and our little boy 10 months old. 
Had I given birth to them both, I would have had at least 12 months of reading to them, talking to them, pointing out things in their world,  counting each toy as it went into the bathtub, or counting their little piggies. They would have had at least 12 months of being sung to every day, of having books read to them many many times per day. But they did not get that. Instead, our son, when we met him at 10 months old, could not even hold his own head up. Our daughter who was a year old already, could not even sit up on her own. Some people thought that maybe we should not have high expectations of them, like we did our older four. Some people thought that they might not be able to do very much. Some people wondered if they would ever do anything at all. 

About a month in a half after getting home we met with Early Intervention to talk about PT/OT. Goals were set for six months out. Four months later they had surpassed every single one of their goals! I REFUSE TO LOWER MY EXPECTATIONS OF ANY OF MY CHILDREN! I will be compassionate to the fact that they spent the first year of their lives in an orphanage, I will be understanding that some things may take longer to learn because they have Down syndrome. But I refuse to treat them any differently than any of my other children. 
I work with them every single day, we do all the activities the OT and PT have left for us as "homework". We look at flashcards and I point out the different animals, letters, colors, shapes. I feel like every single moment is a teachable moment. They have gone from not sitting up at all, to sitting up, pulling to a stand, crawling, and our little girl is able to easily cruise around the house, our little boy is able to cruise the length of his crib.
They have amazed our PT and OT. They amaze us. They are fighters, warriors, beautiful children of God, and KNOW what can happen when you work with a child. 
When I taught pre-k most of my kids were reading before they went off to kindergarten. They all knew their letters, letter sounds, and blends. Many of them could spell simple words. They could all write their names and count to 100. 
I could tell which children had parents who were involved in their education. The children who had parents who encouraged learning had kids who were excited about learning, they wanted to learn how to do math, how to add, how to subtract, how to read, how to play chess. I had one little boy who was doing division before he left my classroom (he was 5 years old). Another little boy I knew was reading Harry Potter by the time he was in Kindergarten because his parents encouraged his love of books. 
I can not sit and wait until they decide they want to do something, if I sat and waited for my bio kids to do things, they would not have experienced all the things they did, they would not have had the exposure to all the things they did. It is my job as their parent to make sure we expose them to everything we can, and then as they get older they can tell us what they love the most and can peruse those interests.
Until that day comes, I will continue to work with them, keeping my expectations high. But does High Expectations mean that I expect them to become famous, or the smartest kid in their class? No, what it means is that I will give them the chance to become whatever they want to become by teaching them. Maybe they will be a designer or dance teacher, maybe they will be a teacher, maybe they will work in a lawyers office, or bus tables, or work at a grocery store. It really does not matter to me WHAT they choose to do with their future, but it does matter that I teach them that they can do anything if they try! It matters that I show them they ARE ABLE! To treat them like they are ABLE not DISABLED!


  1. I understand setting high expectations, but I am offended about how you say that if you had carried your two adopted children for 9 months that they would have had a leg up, so to speak. That your carrying them through a pregnancy would have enabled them to speak and be able to do things that your other birth children did. That you won't give them a "free pass" just because they have Down syndrome. My child has Down syndrome, I carried him for 9 months, spoke to him and played music for him while in the womb, and today he's a non-verbal 5 year old. I don't know if he'll ever talk, but I did everything I was "supposed to do" while pregnant and while he was an infant and there are things he simply cannot do because of Down syndrome. I can't push him to do something he isn't ready for either. You say that if you waited for your adopted children to do something you'd be waiting forever. There have been times where I have waited YEARS for him to do something and eventually he did do it. I gave him the chance for practice, but I certainly couldn't just force him to do it! You're new to this world of Down syndrome, so please don't act like you've got everything figured out because you don't. I don't either, but I'm certainly not running around acting like an expert.

    1. To reply to your comment, I am sorry you found it offensive, as for them having a leg up if I had carried them, that is true. Gavyn, who we adopted at 10 months had been left in a crib, with no toys, no lights, no one talking to him, no one holding him, and was drugged to keep him quiet and asleep for the first 10 months of his life. That was 10 months that he did not have a chance to have any kind of interaction with anyone, no PT/OT, nothing. Veronika, missed out on the whole first year of her life, never even knew what a spoon was until we got her home. While not as bad as Gavyn's orphanage, she was never put down on the floor, she was never talked to, sang to. Of course they are going to have more delays than they would have if they had never been in an orphanage. You are right, I am somewhat new to the Down syndrome world, but I spent YEARS doing all kinds of research before we adopted, I have read tons of books on Down syndrome, I was a teacher for over 11 years and worked with kids with special needs, I spent time with other families and their children with special needs before we ever considered adoption. As for Veronika and Gavyn, they were never encouraged to do anything before they were adopted, no one expected anything from them. And I am having to teach them how to try to do new things. Because they certainly do not want to try. My actual post was in response to something someone said about just being ok that they are going to have a lower IQ and not expect too much. The person was not willing to invest time in working with their child who has DS but was certainly willing to complain about it. I would be ok if my two never said anything, I would LOVE for them to be able to talk, will do everything I can to help them, but if they do not at least I will know I tried everything to help them. I am sorry if you felt like my post was coming off as trying to be an expert. It was not my intention, what was my intention is to say that we should treat our children like any of our other children and not expect less. It is when people lower their expectations that they are giving up on their kids. As for your child not being able to talk, my typically developing son was 4 years old before he even said mama, but that did not stop me from teaching him everything I could, I will not lower my expectations because we run into stumbling blocks along the way. Life is full of them.