Jason’s Story

Jason’s Story

I first heard about GiGi’s Playhouse from friends who had toddlers with Down syndrome, and I assumed, like many people I’m sure, that it was primarily directed toward and for younger children.

In a wonderful and appropriate way, our son showed us that is not the case.  This is our GiGi’s story.

Our son Jason was born with Downs Syndrome almost 20 years ago.  In my parent measure of time, he has zoomed from the tow-headed boy who loved dinosaurs and big trucks to a young man who loves music, movies, and sports.

Throughout his life, we have always worked to be sure that he and everyone else knew that he was a PERSON with Down syndrome – his diagnosis is a part of who he is, but it does not define him. And while we are always aware of how he is different – as we plan academics, athletics, recreation, and life in general – we also focus on the similarities he shares with those around him. (I truly believe it is a process used by all parents for and with all their children, just at a different level with children who have special needs!)

During his senior year in high school, self-advocacy became a more focused part of his education.  This included more frequent discussions about Downs Syndrome and use of the term “disability” and how that applied to him in life and his future. Even with the inclusion of his strengths and the fact that everyone has areas that we need help, even with his involvement in and love for his 6 years of Special Olympics, the reality of his being a part of a “disabled” population was hard for him. He would often tolerate short conversations and then say, “Can we be done?”.  He had good school experiences and a mix of friends from his special education and regular classes.  At this age, especially, it was important for him to be like everyone else.  “Disability” did not fit his idea of that at all.  He came to a point of quiet, non-participating tolerance on the subject.

Last year he began attending the Transition Plus Program, where he blends life skills learning with community based work and volunteer experiences.  About a year ago, an addition appeared on his schedule: a weekly volunteer opportunity at Gigi’s Playhouse doing some cleaning and organization.

I have to say here that Jason is, age and gender appropriately, not the most generous of communicators about his day.  One of our family traditions is that everyone has to share something at the dinner table about their day.  This can still be a time and energy consuming experience for Jason … and the family!

After his second week at Gigi’s, Jason came in the door hollering, “MOM!” and waving a piece of paper.  When I asked him what it was, he said, “You know! Friday Friends? It’s for people with Downs Syndrome – just like me!!”  As I stood there stunned and almost in tears, he started listing all the people he knew with Downs Syndrome.  It was as if a door had opened and a new journey had started.

Since then, Friday Friends has been a regular part of our schedule, and, more importantly, Jason’s life.  He has invited friends to come and continues his efforts to recruit more.  He loved the winter dance and looks forward to playing Wii and foosball, having pizza and doing karaoke every month.  Along with those wonderful activities though are the many unexpected and invaluable benefits:  he has a safe place to practice making friends and to socialize/hang out with friends – with and without disabilities. We have watched him become more self-confident and willing to try new experiences and independence in other aspects of his life, and seen him be more encouraging and supportive of people around him.

Jason’s experience with Gigi’s Playhouse has helped him to have a new sense of himself, his world, and his future.  And while he still doesn’t embrace “disability”, he is more accepting about how it might fit into his life.

Gigi’s Playhouse TRULY offers foundational learning opportunities for individuals with Downs Syndromes, their families, and the community.  And so much more!

We are blessed and grateful!

-Jason’s Mom, Sarah

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2 Comments

  1. Richard Reilly on December 21, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Sarah, Jason, GiGi’s Playhouse Twin Cities, you bring sunshine to a dreary day here in Connecticut. Sarah, your message is one of quality of life, a prime mission of Gigi’s Playhouse. Jason, having visited the Twin Cities Playhouse I can understand your excitement about Friday Friends and “coming back”. Make sure your friends know that they don’t have to have Down syndrome to be part of the group. Also you and your mom check out GiGi University. Sarah, your words encourage all of us at GiGi’s to be the best we can be, in Place, in Programs, and most importantly, in Ourselves. Jason, keep volunteering, I really admire you for this. My grandson Louis is six and has Down syndrome too. As a Self Advocate you are a good example for him. I volunteer too. We are in this together-not Down syndrome, but Life! Big Love! Richard – The Grandparent Connection

  2. Dorothy Scanan on January 16, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    As soon as I stop crying, I will post a literate reply.
    Full disclosure: Jaxon’s Grandma

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