Ethan joined in a pick up basketball game on our street this weekend. For many kids, that wouldn't be that exciting. But as a teenager with Down syndrome, it is exciting and complicated.
Since he was very young, much of our focus with Ethan has been on 'appropriate' ways to handle every situation from walking through the grocery store to sitting in church (some lessons have been more successful than others). It is so much harder for kids with DS to 'pick up' on the nuances of social function. It is harder to discriminate who we hug as opposed to who we might shake hands with, and whether a friendly shove from an opposing team member is an invitation for a wrestling match.
So I watched as Ethan walked out the front door, ball in hand. He yelled to the boys that he wanted to play. I don't know, for sure, what the boys were thinking. They have had lots of experiences with Ethan, but they were probably unaware as to whether or not he could make a lay-up, knew to pass and could discern whether he was on offense and defense. But he does know. And he knows because, unlike other kids who came to this knowledge effortlessly, we taught, re-taught, school taught, walked through the steps, reminded, and then did it all again.
At Midland School, there is a huge focus on physical education and intramural sports. Ethan has been taught the intricacies and skills of games such as soccer and basketball. He was taught where to stand and how to place your hands. I have seen the phys. ed. staff at Midland use markers on the floor, slow motion, and one-to-one instruction to make sure the kids, at whatever level they are at, can learn to play a game. The intramural games at Midland are important events, with spectators and cheerleaders!
I marvel as a court full of special education students, all with their own deficits and quirks, participate in a totally typical, fluid game of basketball. I watch as they run down the court, take appropriate positions, pass to each other, make baskets, show boat, and give high fives. For a moment, I realize that for some of these kids, it is a small miracle.
As the game went on out in the street, no one cared about Ethan's reading level or standardized test scores. They only cared if he could play a simple game of basketball.
And so did I.