Guest Blog Submitted by
July is the month in America where we celebrate our nation’s independence. At GiGi’s Playhouse, we celebrate independence every single day! Every program is purposeful and progressive with the goal of reaching independence in every area and stage of an individual’s development. We are constantly balancing providing support with promoting independence to our participants with Down syndrome. We also know that independence looks different for every one of our participants.
For Josh age 23 independence meant being involved at GiGi’s as soon as his family moved him to Arizona and has culminated to finding a part-time volunteer position in Scottsdale where hopefully he will be able to become an employee.
For Mitch age 22 independence meant not relying on his parents to communicate for him and being willing to engage in and start conversations with his peers.
For Brooklyn age 10, who is primarily non-verbal, independence meant using her Assisted Communication Device (ACD) to declare to one of the aids in her classroom ‘Dude, you go away now!’
People who work with individuals with Down syndrome as well as their families find the balance between providing supervision that is appropriate, while promoting their independence is often a delicate dance. We try to remind ourselves that communication needs to be clear without any mixed signals. Instead of ‘go clean your room’ you could say, ‘put your trucks in the yellow bin’ as a first step, then follow it by another equally specific task. While teaching independence, it is always helpful to also share what resources are available. An example of this was when we took the GiGi U Participants to the grocery story. They had a small specific list of items to find. When one item wasn’t available, we talked about what resource was available. In that instance the resource was asking a store employee. So, we identified the employee by their uniform and how to ask the question. When we returned to GiGi’s we discussed how we were able to find what we needed. It was a lesson, we overheard a participant share latter with their parent!
As volunteers, parents, and staff at GiGi’s it is our responsibility to help our participants learn to lead their lives with the least amount of assistance possible while also ensuring that they are safe. I think we are doing a pretty good job.