Monday, February 9, 2009

Down Syndrome and MASCOTS

Several bloggers such as “Welcome to Illinois”,
“ Girl in a Party Hat”,
and Mothering By the Seat of my Pants (love that title…LOL) have posted comments on situations where teens with Down syndrome were given their “moment to shine”. In these cases the child with Down syndrome is voted prom queen, given ten minutes on the basketball court, and the like. And their (the posters) feelings were very mixed. I understand that.
First, let us face reality. The basketball team is NOT going to put him on their regular lineup, unless he is VERY able. Basketball involves more than shooting hoops-- defense strategy, offensive plays.... and if he is not able to do that, and do it as well as the other boys on the team, you can't expect him to be on the regular lineup. IF he really can’t do it well.
Just because we want our children to be included does not mean that other people who have worked hard to achieve a goal, need to sacrifice their right to success because a person with Down syndrome wants to be like everyone else. Because he is NOT like everyone else. I hate to say that. But it is the terrible truth. He may have the same hopes and ambitions. But hopes and ambition is not what counts on the team. A clumsy teen without Down syndrome, full of love for basketball, would not be included on the team either, on sole basis of his desire to be so. In a case like this, if the team has the opportunity to put him on, in a way that the child with Down syndrome will be happy with it, why not? (Although I would argue that surely an opportunity could arise more than once every nine years…..)
In a case where the opportunity is given “gratis”, as a gift, it may be a bittersweet moment for the parents. I can live with that. Even when my daughter participated very well in class productions, it was bittersweet. It was still oh so very obvious to me how far she was behind her classmates. But she enjoys the productions. Should I deny her of it because she is not perfect, or doesn’t have a “part” well beyond her capabilities? I think not.
But when the schoolgirls at the production “cheered” her on (in a way not done for other performers), [Note: this was done by girls NOT in HER class. They, I think, would never act so patronizingly….] I asked them to stop.
I think that we have to carefully see and evaluate (as parents, when it affects our child) each case. For example, in searching for a school program for Ricki in high school, I investigated a program in a city about an hour’s drive away. In the end, I decided to not pursue this option. Why? The actual program was not much better than that in my city. It is true that the special-ed students have much more contact with “normal” classes than our local special-ed class. But it is, I heard, a rather “mascot-y” type of contact. And that is not worth traveling two hours daily. I do hope to convince our local high schools to work on establishing a contact between their students and the special-education classes.

* * * * * *
Perhaps the biggest qualm I have about “mascot” programs is that it allows the “normal” students to feel that they have given the student with Down syndrome what is “due” him. Sometimes I suspect that this blocks the attempt to stop and make a clear evaluation of what contribution the child or teen with Down syndrome REALLY CAN DO, without needing charity handouts. With a little bit of extra teaching, coaching, practice…. I suspect that there are many things our “special education” students can do on the regular terms of society. And I would like that evaluation to be done more often.


CJ Field said...

I completely agree. While stories like this are great. I want more. I am so happy for Patrick's accomplishment and I think we should always keep stories like this in society's eyes (for the parents who receive a diagnosis in utero, for example.) But I also want these stories to be the NORM, not the exception.

Unknown said...

What a terrific discussion of this. As a parent of a 5 year old, I have so much to learn from parents of kids who are a bit older. THANK YOU!

Poppasan said...

Yes, yes, yes. Making someone a mascot doesn't make her more like the others, but less so. Maybe that's OK, but we should recognize it.

RivkA with a capital A said...

This was a powerful post.

My inclination is that it is better to teach "regular" kids how to be accepting and integrating down's kids for what they really can do, rather than teaching them to feel sorry for the down's kids and giving them "token" roles, but not really integrating them.

Recently, I was at the Bat Mitzvah of a girl who learns at Reishit in the Gush. Among the girls at the party were two girls with down's syndrome from her integrated class. The girls with down's were completely "normal" and fully integrated. Of course, they had special needs, but they were part of the class, and it was obvious. No one treated them any differently, and it was really nice to see.

rickismom said...

Yes, Rivka, That's how it is with Ricki.
Will, I early on read a passage in Woodbine House's Book on Teaching Reading to Children with DS. The author recounted that once she was teaching a student. An observer saw the student peak at the picture underneath.
"She's CHEATING!!"
"She's learning. It is not a test...."

Chris said...

Great post. I appreciate your telling it like it is. Please don't misunderstand, I don't think Patrick should have been allowed to play if he wasn't able. I guess the story bothered me because it really wasn't about Patrick. It was about everyone being nice to Patrick and Patrick surprising all of the normal folk by scoring two baskets--even though, I suspect, no one was blocking his shot. In a way, I felt it just furthered the stereotypes. We never got to know what Patrick thought or how he felt. I guess I am still trying to make my way. So many parents say Ds really isn't that big of deal, that our kids can do the same thing as everyone else--it just takes longer, etc. I want to believe that, but the truth is, when I look around, I see a lot people with Ds for whom this does not seem to be the case. Trying to be optimistic and realistic can be hard sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I just watched the Today show piece and I had some of the typical reactions, but underlying those were this unease. I'm a firm believer in offering opportunity, so I'm always asking the questions about what type of opportunities and assistance to fully participate. It's so very easy to make assumptions that often many inidividuals are not invited to particiate as fully as they can - thus leaving us with token moments and relationships. Others without disabilities need to see the true worth of those that have disabilities - beyond hugs.