303’s Party Issue is hot off the presses, folks. We’re picking out our holiday dresses with the right amount of sparkle, perfecting the art of knotting a bow tie with a sufficient amount of quirk and shining our patent leather dancing shoes to within an inch of their lives, all in anticipation of this most festive of party seasons. The first shindig of the year for one Miss BeFit takes place this Saturday, hosted by the Mile High Down Syndrome Association. This morning, I made my way to their office on South Tamarac Drive for a little chat with Executive Director Mac Macsovits.
The office walls are covered in portraits of kids involved with Mile High and the conference table is positively overflowing with toys; far too many toys to fit under the tree that is ever so elegantly decorated with neon rubber bands and, inexplicably, a shark (“That’s my shark,” says Mac.). The toys come from Walmart and would otherwise be destroyed, as they are deemed unsellable due to damaged packaging. There’s nothing at all wrong with the toys, and a fellow working at the Walmart distribution center was able to turn this barbaric toy destruction (I wasn’t the only one severely affected by Toy Story 3) into a donation opportunity. Walmart has since donated a flat-screen TV and other techy treats to the facility. I’ve got a hunch that Santa may make an appearance this Saturday.
MHDSA was formed in Boulder in 1981. At the time, there were four or five families with kids with Down syndrome and nowhere to turn for resources or support. The families started meeting up in their living rooms until Linda, who was Executive Director until Mac took over three years ago, and the rest of the founders dubbed themselves the Mile High Down Syndrome Association. During Linda’s twenty-seven years with Mile High, the association was very Denver-centric, Mac explained.
“What about the baby with Down syndrome being born in Ouray [population about 600]?” There are parents of kids with Down syndrome everywhere, all of whom, at some point, feel helpless, scared, angry or unprepared. Since Mac has joined with MHDSA, the goal has been expansion.
“Two people [in Ouray] have Down syndrome,” Mac says. “One was born about three months ago that I’m glad to say we’re supporting.”
Any family who needs help, inside or outside of Denver, should be able to call and get assistance. These are parents who receive a prenatal diagnosis or who don’t know their child has Down syndrome until after birth, parents who keep their baby or those who choose to give it up. Mile High is designed to be strictly a resource center. There are no judgments, only information and assistance.
Another concern that is being addressed lately is the fact that once the kids reach school-age, the families become less involved with MHDSA. Parents can start teaching as early as three or four weeks old, with occupational, speech and physical therapy. After that age, the education of the child is taken over by the public school system, so Mile High is working to make sure there are many specialists available to assist the teachers there. So far, there is one specialist in each of eight school districts in the area, and an aim for more. These specialists are educated specifically in and have experience with students with Down syndrome, and will be able to offer solutions for behavioral problems or to help a teacher adjust his or her program to fit the student’s individual needs.
Mac stressed the importance of these students’ total immersion in real life, as opposed to the practically archaic “separate but equal” bull crap. He had a way of explaining the situation, where he would say, “Kailey has Down syndrome and spends the day in her own classroom until art class, when she can join the rest of the kids in her grade,” or, “Kailey has a daughter with Down syndrome who doesn’t take regular classes because she’s not expected to go to college.” When he said it like that, my breath caught in my throat because it was so unfair. Thirty years ago, these kids wouldn’t be expected to live normal lives. Now, people with Down syndrome are graduating high school, graduating college, getting married and getting good jobs. At one point, Mac dropped a packet of paper in front of me. It was a script from Glee (the “Original Song” episode) that was autographed by the entire cast and right there on the hot-pink cover, Lauren Potter, the actress with Down syndrome who plays Becky, had signed it in big loopy letters.
These kids can learn and grow and develop right along with traditionally developing kids, and nothing suggests that they learn less than people without Down syndrome. It’s a different way of learning, and some aspects might take a little longer than usual, or a different approach might be necessary, like everybody else. Like I hope that someday I will find something to help me understand commas. The more educators and parents and peers know about Down syndrome, the more we can help each other succeed. And that’s something worth partying for.
Tune in next week for my coverage of the MHDSA Christmas party.