When we asked MJ’s and Eden’s dads what everyone should know about them, this is what they said:
“People never seem to know what kids with down syndrome “can do.” Normally, they ask what kids can’t do. Our family believes MJ can do anything that anyone else can. From youth karate and soccer at the Naperville Park District, to taking online classes during the pandemic, MJ is always pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and living up to his mantra: #dontdoubt.
Sometimes MJ surprises me with what he can do, like when he knows his passwords to his online school accounts, or when he shows me a killer Minecraft castle that he built himself.
There are other times when I’m not surprised at all because he’s built great habits. He works out daily. He meditates on the porch in the morning sun. He balances his diet (except for his nightly ice cream – c’mon, the boy’s human). He’s even learned how to do a left-handed lay-up.
As a family, we committed to not doubting as soon as MJ was born. With little knowledge of the down syndrome community, we were a blank slate as a family – we could write any story we wanted.
We discovered GiGi’s during their very first fundraising 5K at the original Hoffman Estates location and the community there really encouraged our thinking about the limitless potential of the kids. GiGi’s played a massively important role in connecting us with the community of therapists, tutors and parents who helped us realize that really, anything was possible for our little boy.
When we met Hany, MJ’s PT, we said we wanted him to run and jump. He was 4 months old. Hany worked with him for years and made invaluable suggestions for therapies we would have never considered like ankle braces when he started to walk and a mirror in the basement so MJ could look at himself while balancing on a balance beam. Now at 16, he still likes to look at himself in the mirror, but now he’s flexing his muscles!
When we first met with his speech therapist, Karen, she asked what our goals were for MJ. We said we wanted him speaking in paragraphs. He was 4. Sometimes his stories now are so long we wish we had asked for shorter paragraphs!
MJ loves public speaking and got to hone his skills at his high school’s Ted Ed Club. The students researched and practiced their speeches for weeks. Here’s MJ’s talk titled “Inclusion vs. Isolation”.
As he’s gotten older, MJ’s teachers have pushed him hard and we’ve always appreciated it. During his first year of high school, MJ was very busy doing what everyone else can. His mom made a video of some of the highlights of his freshman year to show how important it is that we #dontdoubt.
#dontdoubt is a powerful reminder that we can all grow by trying and that limits really don’t exist. Our expectations for MJ and for the people who work with him are sky high – there’s certainly no doubt about that – but MJ has met those expectations over and over again. He is the living proof of the power of #dontdoubt.”
-Michael Palmquist (MJ’s dad)
“Eden is a compassionate, loving and creative girl that loves dancing, singing and participating in musicals. At GiGi’s, she has found the opportunity to develop friendships with other kids with Down syndrome, like MJ and others, and be part of a community that is accepting and shares the same joy of life.”
-Luciano Salem (Eden’s dad)