Monday, June 25, 2012

Me on Jack

*Jack is not an actual person. Jack is a representation and combination of several people I have known throughout my life. Any similarities to real people are coincidental.*

Jack is a regular 16 year old boy in a public high school. Jack also has Down Syndrome. Herein lies a conundrum for Jack. He, like every teenage boy, has wants and dreams. Some are simple, like learning to drive, some are long term goals, like going to college. However, Jack has daily cognitive and social challenges that make the simplest want very difficult to achieve. Whereas most teenagers can get their driver’s license at 16, Jack is barred from driving because he has trouble taking tests, his memory is poor, and he is “untrustworthy” with the responsibility. No one will take Jack driving so that he can practice, and his parents don’t even consider putting him in driver’s education. He wants to be able to drive to and from home on the weekends when he is living at college. Jack’s parents and teachers don’t consider college an option for Jack, who gets easily distracted and needs lots of prompting to complete classwork. Jack wants to be like everyone else. But no one will let him be.

I met Jack while substitute teaching. He struck me as painfully unaware of the limitations placed upon him. He kept saying, “When I’m older I’ll get to do...” As for the daily activities Jack isn’t allowed to participate in, he blames his “heart condition” (Jack was born with an abnormal heartbeat, a common physical symptom in babies with Down Syndrome. It was corrected with surgery when Jack was three, and he has no symptoms) because that’s why his Mom tells him he can’t go out alone or learn to drive. His mother focuses on Jack’s social skills primarily. She is very matter-of-fact about his limitations in that area: “Jack starts every interaction the same way. When people ignore him, he doesn’t know what to do. I tell him that if they smile at him, he should continue, but even some people who smile at him then walk away. I try to tell Jack that not everyone wants to be his friend, but Jack takes this to mean that only adults who interact with him like his teacher or his therapists are his friends. What else am I supposed to tell him? That these people are only nice to him because they have to be? That people are ignorant and intolerant and they don’t want to “deal with” being his friend?” If Jack had a couple understanding friends, he could at least go out in groups and learn what normal social interactions look like. But, as his mother says, people don’t understand Jack and they don’t want to try.

No comments:

Post a Comment