Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Today was twin day at work/school.  Judah and I obviously didn't have to try too hard.

Neither did some of my students.  I have some students that are capable of turning the day upside down in an instant.  This is where I think my parenting experience comes into play.

I consider myself to be a very loving yet firm father to all three of my children.  I don't have parenting figured out, but I'm making my way and I love the adventure.  I've learned some useful stuff so far too.  Especially with little buddies.  I have been able to apply much of what I've learned as a father to teaching and running a classroom. 

I may piss some people off in saying this and that's okay.  I feel like I have a valid opinion and opportunities/experience to back it up. Children with Down syndrome, when left alone or ignored, many times will act like wild animals.  I mean that in the literal sense.  Children with DS need constant and consistent structure and repetition.  If they are allowed to do whatever they want it's almost like they default to basic animal like instincts that most of us would never do.  Such as rummaging through a crapped diaper and smearing it all over kingdom come; yelling/shouting and spitting unintelligible words to communicate; and hitting and biting when upset.  

Some of you might be thinking "yeah but isn't that how every kid reacts when allowed to get their way".  My answer is yes, probably initially, but at some point typical kids will stop smearing poo on the walls because they think it's disgusting. 

My point is this.  When parenting a child with DS, set the same standards and expectations you do/would for your other children without DS.  They are children, not animals.  They are a child first.  They should be expected to behave, listen when spoken to, and respect others.  They should be disciplined when out of line and consistently reminded of and shown how to act.  Yes, children with DS have significant needs and delays and yes you should be mindful of those at all times.  Yes, they are cute and, yes it's very difficult to discipline them sometimes.

If you as the parent/caretaker motivate and encourage your child with DS and use proper reinforcement you will see exceptional results.  They are capable and CAN act like human beings.  If you don't... you are not only severely hindering your child from a successful life, you're also making it extra hard on yourself and anyone who is responsible for the well being of your child.  The older they get, the more it levels out.  Especially once they become self motivated.

So back to my class... I set high expectations from the get go.  My students learn and are expected to produce some kind of result no matter how small.  I have a couple of wild students in my class that, as I mentioned earlier, can be a real challenge.  The first one being to walk silently in a single file line.  I can proudly say that all of my students have demonstrated that they can do this.  They don't always follow through with it, but they DO know what is expected of them.  It's the little things, and as a teacher who sometimes will inherit problems parents don't want to deal with, it's those little things that keep me inspired.

The moral of this post is mostly for parents.  Please, if you have a child with DS, set their expectations high and follow through with encouragement and discipline. The results are rewarding.  Honestly, it just doesn't get much better than a well behaved buddy that brings joy and laughter to everyday life.  My little guy can be quite ornery, but there is no doubt that he knows exactly what is expected of him and he is stopped in his tracks when he crosses the line.  Proper expectations and discipline are good for everyone and even better for kids with DS.  Set the standard high.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

School pictures.

Yesterday was picture day at school and it was kind of a nightmare.  My students were actually fairly cooperative.  My son however was not.  It's very easy for me to lose my patience, especially with my own children.  I almost became a jerk just to get my buddy to sit still and smile.  I harnessed my emotions and opted to go with a picture that would be "good enough" for the year book.  I kept my check and decided not to order any.  

I think Judah always takes great candid photos.  Ask the kid to smile and pose... forget it.  He crosses his eyes and cocks his head to the side.  In light of a frustrating picture experience here's a great pic of me and my buddy recently at the zoo.  I think this picture captures our relationship really well.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Poopy pants.

Toilet training kids with Down syndrome is a real challenge.  I'd say for a new parent of a kid with DS, give your child at least a year to get the basics down.  Obviously there are exceptions to this, but from my experience, no matter how hard and consistent you work at it, it just takes a long time for little buddies to understand the concept.  For a kid with cognitive delay's it takes consistent repetition and strict scheduling.  Stick with it and I promise they'll catch on eventually.

As a teacher of students with DS only half of my students are completely toilet trained.  Instead of letting us know they need to go, sometimes they'll just lay on the ground and kick back, all stoked to get cleaned up.  I suppose if someone was willing to "baby wipe" me after a pants dump, I'd be hesitant to go on my own too!

So with Judah, my wife and I knew early on that we wanted him to be mainstreamed as much as possible.  With that mindset our biggest goal/obstacle was to make sure he was out of diapers and totally toilet trained before he started kindergarten.  We began the process a few months before he turned four.  It was at that age we knew he was ready.  There comes a point in every child's life when you as the parent will figure out exactly when your kid is ready to start going on their own.  Honestly much of parenting just takes a bit of common sense, it's really not much different parenting a kid with Down syndrome... just more challenging and requires more patience.

It was a slow, arduous process with Judah and when he started kindergarten back in August he was about 90% trained.  In other words, he was no longer in diapers.  He was capable of peeing and pooping on his own.  He just needed to be reminded when to go and required assistance with wiping.  He'd just hold it until someone told him to go to the restroom.

Now that we're two months into his kindergarten year he goes on his own and will let someone know when it's time...

EXCEPT when he has diarrhea...

he... just.. can't... quite... hold... it...

Especially after eating some of the school lunches he has to put down!  "Tostada boats"?

So he's had two accidents in his mainstream class.  Both times were full on blowouts and both were after lunch towards the end of the day.  The first stayed fairly well concealed in his britches.  My class is next to his so I was able to intercept him and basically give him a bath in the restroom sink.  The crazy thing is that three of my students with DS also had similar explosions around the same time, all within 15-30 minutes of each other.

The second accident was yesterday... on his 6th birthday and just before mom arrived in the afternoon with homemade cupcakes for his class party!  This second time it did not stay well concealed.  His classmates got to enjoy it all over their nice "circle time" rug and he left a trail of wrecked "tostada boat" from his class to mine!

So just when we thought we were in the clear on toilet training Judah, he throws us a curve ball.  Such is life with many kids, but especially those with DS.  The moral of this story is = Refried beans may taste awesome, especially when cradled within a crunchy taco shell that resembles an old timey river raft, but unless you want your kid floating in class, skip the school lunch that day.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Happy 6th Birthday Judah!!

Well it's past midnight and I'm still up.  My son Judah is now officially 6 years old today. 
My little man at 2 years old.

The day he was born (Oct 19, 2005) I was reading the Fort Worth Star Telegram in the lobby at North Hills Hospital. I found an article in the sports section about a Keller High School senior with Down syndrome named Lyndon Laplante. The article was about this young man's dream to score a touchdown for his high school football team and how it became a reality by way of a 99 yard run. 

I was really having a hard time with life/faith, etc and this story gave me hope and encouragement in what was a dark hour of my life.

I'm posting this in honor of Down syndrome awareness month and the incredible positive impact having a child with DS has had on me personally. I'm the fortunate one!

Happy birthday Judah! You have brought so much love and joy to our lives!  I love you more than ever!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Velcro shoes.

Check out Judah's awesome velcro shoes!

I have to say, teaching children with Down syndrome takes a ton of patience.  In my classroom we spend at least as much time practicing proper hygiene and life skills as we do on academics.  There is never enough time in a day, especially for tying shoes.  

If you have a kid with cognitive delays, get them some velcro shoes!  It just makes the world a lot better of a place when the teacher and paraprofessionals don't have to stop and tie shoes every 10 minutes.  I'm a realist.  Kids with Down syndrome generally have a rough time nailing down basic fine motor skills, let alone "chasing a rabbit around a tree and through some hoops" or "down a hole" or however that shoe-tying deal goes.  

Shoes serve a basic function and nowadays they come in a myriad of options, many of which include VELCRO instead of laces.  Jump on the velcro train and allow your kids' teacher and paraprofessionals to focus more on teaching instead of making "rabbit ears".  I even wear velcro shoes sometimes.

Judah and I proudly sporting velcro shoes!

Here's a good tip: Vans and Converse!  If those are too pricey for you, Wal Mart, Target and Payless offer the latest cartoon characters in velcro and you can never go wrong with the old Silver Series stand by.  

Even the girls are drawn to a boy with a nice pair of velcro's.

What I'm saying is, most of my students roll in to my class everyday with triple knotted up shoe laces.  During circle time they manage to Houdini their way out of the foot fortress their parents wrapped them up in and then myself or my aides spend the better part of a few minutes untangling a rats nest of laces.  Simple solution=VELCRO!!!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Not just a father.

Welcome to my blog.  I don't anticipate many visits because I am not really going to put myself out there for the whole world to see.  I'm not trying to sell anything and I'm certainly not about shameless self promotion.  If there's one thing I've learned in my 32 years it's that life is definitely NOT about me.

However, I do feel like I have a unique perspective when it comes to people with Down syndrome.  I am a father and teacher of children with DS.  My son, Judah, who will be 6 years old soon has Down syndrome.  Not so rare you might think for a parent to blog about their life raising a kid with DS.  I've seen many and enjoy reading about other parents' adventures with their own little buddies.  I am also a first year teacher.  My class is for students with moderate intellectual disabilities (mental retardation) grades kindergarten through 3rd grade.  I have 7 students in my class, 4 of which have Down syndrome.

My little buddy, Judah.

I've lived a fairly exciting life even before my son was born, but especially over the past 6 years.  I've been married for almost 10 years and along with Judah, my wife and I have two beautiful girls, one older, and one younger than him.  I've always done my own thing and been a bit of an outsider, not by force, but by choice.  "I'm a loner Dottie... a rebel." I can't say that I really like to stand out so much as I'm just not a follower. I never have been.  So when my wife and I found out we were to have a child with Down syndrome, I can't say that I was surprised.  It just made sense.  We struggled a bit with life and faith as you might imagine and just a few months after Judah was born we decided the best thing for our family would be to move from my hometown of Fort Worth, Texas to my wife's hometown in the vast desert of Arizona.

After Judah was born I began thinking seriously about returning to college to become a special ed teacher.  I went to Dallas Baptist University for a few semesters right after I graduated from high school in 1997.  At the time, it just wasn't for me.  I had other interests and plans and dropped out after a year and a half.  I went on to live my life, get married, start a family, etc.  I had a couple of careers, first as a UPS driver and then as an electrician.  With the arrival of my new little buddy I returned to college in January 2006 when he was only 3 months old.  I graduated with honors in May 2011 with a dual major in elementary and special education.  I also obtained a structured English immersion certificate from Northern Arizona University.

If you knew me in Jr. and High school that may come as a surprise to you.  When I was younger all I cared about was skateboarding and punk rock.  I hated school.  I had no idea that I was capable of getting A's, or even honor's for that matter.  It's amazing what responsibility and life will do to you.

Judah with his little sister Aveline at a car show.

I just began my teaching career and Judah just began grade school this August.  I teach his friends in the special ed class and he goes to a general education kindergarten class that just so happens to be right next door to mine.  Yes, Judah is totally mainstreamed.  No, he is not some super Down syndrome whiz kid either.  Let me explain.

I became a teacher for Judah, so that I could be the best father for him.  It's really that simple.  I would not be a teacher if Judah did not exist.  He changed my life and in turn I have chosen a career that will change his and hopefully help the lives of others like him.

The more I learned the more I fell in love with people with Down syndrome (I like to call them "buddies") and the more I came to grips with the fact that the best thing for Judah may NOT be for me to be his teacher.  So we're just taking the mainstream deal one year at a time.

We are coming up on the first grading period of the school year, Judah's 6th birthday and it just so happens to be October, Down syndrome awareness month.  Which is why I started this blog.  I love my career!  I love teaching students with disabilities, especially buddies.  I already have a grip of stories to tell and the school year is just barely getting started.  I hope you can be encouraged by my adventures with my own little buddy and my students.

About the name of this blog: JUST LISTEN HARDER.  While in college a young lady about 27 years old with Down syndrome spoke to one of my education classes.  While taking questions, I asked her "As a father of a child with Down syndrome what is the best advice you can give me?" She replied "Just listen.  If you don't understand what he's saying just listen harder."