Last summer, I had the opportunity to spend six weeks in a gorgeous New Jersey beach community while my aunt Marie was away for business. She asked me to take on the normal tasks like watering the plants, feeding the cat, and cleaning the litter box. However, there was one catch: taking care of Dave. Dave is a 10-year-old child with Down syndrome.
Even with being a health care professional, Down syndrome had been somewhat foreign to me. Yes, I was aware of the chromosomal abnormality and the typical physical characteristics of the condition, but nothing could have prepared me for the task of caring for a child with Down syndrome. Being a pharmacist, I thought how hard could it be? I’ve worked with all types of patients and was willing to learn the insides and outs of caring for a child with Down syndrome.
When I had arrived at the beach house, Aunt Marie handed me a list of things to do on a piece of wrinkled loose leaf paper. The paper listed Dave’s typical routine as well as important phone numbers. As we parted ways I felt confident that I would have no issue taking care of Dave. About an hour later, Dave woke up from his afternoon nap and he realized Aunt Marie was gone. My first task of the day was getting Dave to calm down. Within 20 minutes I was able to calm Dave’s nerves as we got some quality time watching his favorite cartoons. Even through all the initial nerves I had a calmness inside of me that said, “This is a piece of cake!”
From there on, the challenge of taking care of Dave was pretty typical of any 10-year-old. I’m not saying it was easy, but taking care of any 10-year-old child would be a challenge. We woke up every morning, took a walk for some exercise, did our morning shopping, prepared lunch together, and any other daily activity that proved to be quite normal. The main difference would be our morning routine of concentrating on speech, writing, and learning. Having done some private tutoring before, this was a fun thing for me. I loved to teach him new things and make progress in his daily lessons.
Is there a social stigma to Down syndrome? The stares were hard to ignore at first, but after some time became part of the landscape. Yes Dave made some unusual sounds at times, but shopping out in public with Dave was fun! The occasional stare never stopped us from joking around with one another or even cracking up laughing in the toy section. After all like any typical kid, Dave loved playing with his action figures!
Taking care of a child with Down syndrome can prove to be a challenging task. After 6 weeks, I had learned that patience and attention were the two main characteristics that helped in my care taking of Dave. The kid had really grown on me. Since those six weeks, I continue to visit Dave. His eyes light up every time he sees me which feels highly rewarding. Overall, this experience taught me that children with Down syndrome are just typical children who need a little extra attention and care. After some time, Dave was no longer Dave with Down syndrome. Dave was just Dave!