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Jason goes to junior high.

Jason Elias, a 15-year-old with Down syndrome, has grown up on the pages of Exceptional Parent. We found him nursing (June 1977), playing with neighborhood children (December 1980), going to kindergarten and first grade February 1983, September 1986), prospering in the mainstream (September 1988), and now making the transition to junior high school.

" I REALLY WANT TO STAY WITH MY FRIENDS AT RINCON VALLEY JUNIOR HIGH," was Jason's fervent wish after spending a couple of days at the end of the school year visiting other possible placements for him. And with that comment he resolved the last of several issues that he, our family and his teachers had faced during his experience as a seventh-grader with special needs who was mainstreamed in our neighborhood school. Jason is our 15-year-old son who was born with Down syndrome. He has been mainstreamed in neighborhood schools since he entered kindergarten at the age of six.

From Elementary to Junior High School. "Jason got his locker open just fine, but I had to go to the office and get help with my own," chuckled Matt who had volunteered to be Jason's locker buddy. Having a locker buddy was one of many actions we planned to help Jason.

During the early years, he repeated some grades and was able to do much the same work as his classmates with support from a resource specialist program for a couple of hours a day. Later, Jason did each project in a simpler form, as his slower learning pace widened the gap between him and the other children in academic areas. Socially there was no gap. He was well-liked by classmates and had good friends. We took these steps to help him make the transition to junior high:

* We took him on an individual visit prior to the visit his class made as a group.

* The junior high resource specialist observed him in sixth grade.

* Friends already in junior high took him to social events at the school.

* Friends showed him where his classes were several times before school began.

* We requested a combination lock for his locker so he could practice opening it over the summer.

* Different friends volunteered - Matt to be a locker buddy, Lefj, a PE buddy, Jerry, a street-crossing helper - until Jason could master these skills.

Schoolwork. Jason's skills levels were at about fourth- or fifth- grade level in reading and first- or second-grade level in math. Our goal was for Jason to be included in seventh-grade activities to learn what he could, rather than for him to master the seventh-grade curriculum. We planned to meet with teachers after two weeks of school, but it wasn't soon enough. Within a few days, some teachers were concerned that Jason could not keep up with the other students. We would recommend sending a note to each instructor on the first day of school briefly orienting them to the situation and expectations.

Jason told us in no uncertain terms that as a junior high student he no longer wanted his parents "mucking" with his homework. The young people who did day care with him assisted him as needed, with instructions to change assignments if necessary For example, sometimes he dictated to another person instead of doing his own writing if he was fatigued, or he might do every other question rather than every question. One hour of homework was about his limit. Speech and language therapy continued to be valuable supports.

Friendships. Jerry and Matt, pals from elementary school, continued to be Jason's "come over and hang out" friends, while he mentioned half a dozen new names as the year continued. His teachers observed that he was well-liked and accepted, though he was sometimes alone. Aaron, a boy several years older who also has Down syndrome and attends a different school, continued to be a frequent visitor at our home.

Social Activities. For each person there is a balance between being out in the world with everyone else and having special needs met. Jason enjoyed taking part in Special Olympics regularly and really looked forward to twice-monthly meetings of his Easter Seal's Teen Club. It was through these activities that he found his girlfriend. Jason's friends from junior high wanted to be coaches for Special Olympics when he participated.

The school day was long for him; sometimes he seemed to have less stamina than others. Some of the ways he relaxed were typical, like MTV, Nintendo and shooting hoops; other relaxations probably had more to do with his special needs. He needed time by himself to "stack books," a way of playing school. He played drums to records almost every day. In sixth grade he learned to write poetry and continues to compose blank verse several times a month about feelings or events that are important to him.

Parent Availability. A key ingredient to head off problems is being available to your child. I volunteered one hour per week in the resource specialist classroom, but not with Jason. Perhaps once a month our family needed to discuss a situation with one of the teachers by phone.

Resounding Successes. Among Jason's successes were being football captain for a month in gym, a "real C" in reading, the egg baby project and the personal cookbook in teen living, taking part in a "Kids' Day" self-esteem workshop, and many others ! What About Next Year? Eighth grade at Rincon Valley is what Jason wants. He wants to work in the cafeteria for an hour. He'll take environmental science, more practical for him than eighth-grade science. And then we'll see.

Lois Elias is a bilingual special education teacher at Easter Seal's Infant Development Program of Sonoma County. She lives with her husband Bob, and sons, Jason, 15, and David, 27, in Santa Rosa, Calif. Elias has a master's in special education from Dominican College and a bachelor's in Spanish from Oxidental College.
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Title Annotation:Jason Elias, 15-year-old with Down syndrome
Author:Elias, Lois
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Words:980
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