I was just at the post office, and while I was there a small group of students from a public downtown high school came in with their teacher.  Most of them were kids with Down syndrome, so I tried to send out unobtrusive happy vibes of "My daughter has Down syndrome, too!" while watching what they were doing.

My happy vibes began to fade as I discovered that they were there to learn how to stamp and mail a letter.  They were a group of high schoolers, learning to send mail.

In high school.

As I finished up running my morning errands, I got madder and madder.

Maybelle is two years old, and let me tell you what she's doing:  she's learning to read.  She can sign and/or say 100+ words.  She can sit, unprompted, in front of the mirror in our living room and watch herself sign most of the key words to a few songs, like Dan Zanes' version of "Welcome Table" or Trip Shakespeare's "Snow Days."  Her preschool teacher told me this week that Maybelle knows all the hand motions that go with the songs they sing in school--she does better, the teacher said, than some of the kids who were in the preschool class last year and have been doing those songs for a year.

My point is not that Maybelle is brilliant--although, of course, she is.  My point is that she's brilliant because we've had high expectations for her, and we've given her the opportunity and the support to reach those high expectations.*  I say lots of things on this blog that are coming out of my ass and that I might have to rescind later, but I promise you that Maybelle will know how to send mail by herself by the age of six.  In high school, she is going to be learning things like algebra, how to make sense of a Toni Morrison novel, how to speak basic French.  She's going to be in an inclusive classroom with her age-appropriate peers, and she's going to be learning high school stuff.

I'm very glad that the kids I saw today were working with a warm, supportive adult, and that they're learning some basic life skills.  But I am so sad and outraged for them that they aren't in an inclusive class (since all the best research says this is the best way to go for kids with Down syndrome), that perhaps they weren't provided early intervention services, and that they aren't being offered higher expectations.  What more could they learn and do if they were provided the chance and the support?

*I'd like to add that one of the main reasons for our high expectations and support for Maybelle has been that we as parent and a family have been given loads of support--from our families, from friends with and without Down syndrome in their families, from fabulous therapists, from colleagues and scholars, and from our local Down Syndrome Association of the Lowcountry.  Among others.


The Mom said...

Go, Alison! You are doing so much good in the world by just being you in the world. I know that sounds prejudiced, as you're my beloved daughter (as Maybelle is your beloved daughter), but I do truly believe it! Our expectations and standards are so often met - we need to be sure they're not set too low. This is not to add stress to our lives, but joy! We all need to aim to be the best we, individually, can be. Of course that may look different from individual to individual, but uniformity isn't the point. Then we need to learn to accept each others' best.

You say it all so much better than I do. Much love,

Tara said...

Things that make you go, "hmmmmmm".

Alison said...

Thanks, mom! I do think that your prejudice--to always think I'm doing good because I'm your beloved daughter--is part of the point. You almost ALWAYS think I'm great and expect great things from me, and that's part of the high expectation thing we're trying to create for Maybelle, too. But it's important that we're not grinding down on her to somehow make her better-better-better--we automatically and always think she's amazing, and that helps create the right environment.

The Mom said...

Alison - exactly! That's what I meant by "not to add stress"... And she is amazing!

Fudge-o-matic said...

While it may surprise you that the children were in high school, you do have to bear in mind that there may have been other learning disabilities that precluded the students from learning about how to send mail at an earlier age. This may also be the first time in their education career that they had a teacher willing to introduce them to this material as well.

Biffle said...


I think that if an entire group of kids in a small place like Charleston needed to be introduced to the concept of mailing a letter when they're in high school, something is amiss.

Fudge-o-Matic part II said...


That may be but having been in public education for almost a decade, I've seen stranger things.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you except for the part that she Will learn french in high school. She Will be fluant french before that because i would have taught her!

Carol McCullough said...

In most respects, this could just have easily been a post about schools and students in general. If I had the time, I would do a blog series comparing and contrasting homework assigned to first graders in different schools in Nashville (for those lucky kids that actually get homework). It is staggering. As you might guess, the schools in our neighborhood would not fare so well in said comparison (and I commute up to Inglewood for Max's schooling).