I consider myself to be one of the lucky few who have had the pleasure of caring for a child with Down Syndrome. From about the age of 15, I was the primary caregiver for my nephew, who, though clinically low-functioning, possesses qualities the rest of us “normally functioning” folks either don’t have or have lost along the way.
My nephew spent his weekdays at a special school for the mentally handicapped. Not all of his classmates had Down Syndrome, but he got along with everybody all the same. I’m not sure my nephew has ever endured the experience of being disliked. He’s always been very generous and smiley with everyone, regardless of their initial attitude towards him. Though his speech is garbled and tough to understand, people sit and have conversations with him.
Every day, I’d be home from high school in time to help him off the bus. He has trouble with stairs because he’s legally blind. Those small slanted eyes of his are shrouded behind the thickest lenses I’ve ever seen. Afternoons were always spent planted in front of the television. He eventually began relating his favorite shows to everyday life. I remember when a family friend stopped by. He’s bald, so my nephew shouted “George Costanza!” Funny kid.
As is typical of people with Down syndrome, my nephew has plenty of physical problems, but he’s never felt limited by any of them. When his school tried to teach him to read, he did become frustrated, but he didn’t dwell on the feeling. As soon as the teachers moved on, he followed suit. Some children with Down syndrome can learn to read. Others cannot. My nephew belongs to the latter group, which is fine. I’ve found that the key is to let these children be who they are. If it’s routine that makes your child comfortable, let him or her have a routine. Like a clock, my nephew had to eat his dinner of mashed-up chicken and applesauce every night at seven. So, we had dinner every night at seven.
According to a According to a 2011 study by the American Journal of Medical Genetics , 88% of older siblings of children with Down Syndrome reported that that they were better people because of their younger brother or sister. I know how they feel. Just by being himself, by keeping things simple and appreciating what most of us take for granted, my nephew has greatly enriched my life.