My daughter Jamie has always been a very active person who loves to get involved in as many activities as possible. She has modeled, and she was in a National American Miss Texas pageant. She has been in cheerleading, and now she works out, bowls, swims, plays basketball and is currently taking a dance class. It may be hard to believe, but Jamie also has Down syndrome.
After Jamie was born, the doctor who delivered her suspected she had Down syndrome. He had a blood test done, and it came back positive. At the time, we really didn’t know much about the disease, but I really wasn’t too worried. I told my husband, “Oh that’s not bad; she’s like Chris Burke, who played Corky on the TV show ‘Life Goes On.’”
Jamie had an older brother who was 20 when she was born and a sister who was 18. They were completely normal, and my husband and I raised them as normal kids—so we treated Jamie the same way. The main reason we treated her like a normal baby was that we just didn’t know how else to treat her at that time. Corky was on TV, but other than that, there wasn’t really a lot of information about Down syndrome. If we had known more we might have treated her differently, but looking back, I don’t really think that would have been a good thing. Yes, Jamie was slower than normal babies: slower to crawl, sit up, walk and talk, but she learned. We encouraged her to learn and develop, and she did.
When Jamie started elementary school is when she started extracurricular activities. For the most part, she was accepted by just about everyone, so the process wasn’t that difficult. And even now, at 20 years old, she is still involved in several activities, including some with “normal” people. Recently, the trainer at her gym told us that Jamie could go into the normal class if she wanted because she was strong and good enough, so we will probably give it a try. Ultimately, we believe that if you don’t at least try something, you’ll never accomplish anything, and that is how we’ve raised Jamie. We’ve never pushed her because she wanted to do most everything she did and continues to do. And at the same time, we have always expected her to behave like she should. Like all kids, Jamie has misbehaved and can be pretty stubborn at times, but with the help of teachers and aides and our commitment to being the best parents possible, she has learned how to behave and make good choices.
It probably seems like living with Jamie’s Down syndrome was always perfect and easy, but that’s not true. There have definitely been challenges along the way. The day she tried out to be a cheerleader in junior high school and didn’t make it was very hard. She was really upset. And she was also frustrated when she didn’t getting invited to some of the parties other kids had because she knew exactly why they didn’t invite her.
Through it all, we have learned a lot about patience and about being courageous enough to try new things—both for Jamie and for us—as we looked at new and different ways of teaching her. Jamie reads and writes and has worked at Dairy Queen and a local daycare in our hometown of Midlothian, Texas. She’s also currently taking classes at Navarro College’s Midlothian Campus, through a special-needs program called Elevate.
It has been a long journey since she was born in 1994, but our family is both proud of and inspired by Jaime. People with Down syndrome are individuals just like you and me, and no matter what the “experts” say, these kids have the ability to accomplish a lot if given the chance.