Depression in teens with Down syndrome is serious business. My teen that has Down syndrome is a bit sadder during the summer. I’m not sure he’s depressed, but he is definitely discouraged more often. Jack is a real schedule person and summer puts a kink in his routine chain. Summer vacation and spending most of his time at home also takes him away from his friends. Our family always manages to get through the summer, but one day in the not-to-distant future, the net that has saved us in the past will not be there to catch us. Utah law will allow Jack to attend high school through the school year that he turns twenty-two, but I’m concerned about what will happen in our home after that. From the first days of kindergarten, school has been good to my son. No, that isn’t true. People have been good to him. Teachers and aids have gone out of their way to help him to progress in learning as much as he can, by making his education fun. Students have been phenomenal. Jack is a real socialite. He loves his peers and they love him back even more, if that’s possible. My son has been asked to his school dances by beautiful and incredible young women. He was voted in as the king for his Junior Prom alongside another peer who has Down syndrome as the queen.
Summer vacation could be a short-term-taste of a downward spiral that could whirlpool any teen with or without Down syndrome into deep depression.
Here’s the difficulty. Jack’s peers have begun to leave high school, and the small mountain town we live in. They go to college, enter more serious and permanent relationships and move on with their lives and creating their own families. That won’t happen for Jack in the same way that it does for his friends. Jack will always need more support from the family that raised him. So if our parenting plan doesn’t include a plan for our son to move on past high school, summer vacation could be a short-term-taste of a downward spiral that could whirlpool any teen with or without Down syndrome into deep depression. Fortunately, we still have time and Jack has dreams beyond high school. I always wanted to make a place for my son in our family-owned manufacturing business. It turns out, that wasn’t what he wanted. Jack had two dream jobs, either would be everything he could dream of. One of the choices was to be a checker at the local grocery store. Jack’s math skills would render that dream unachievable. Even if counting money wasn’t an issue, his personality and innocence would be. (e.g. Hi! How are you? Do you want some money? OK! Here you go! Do you want some more money?!) Jack’s other career choice was as compatible with his personality and abilities as Tom Hanks is with acting. Jack wanted to be a grocery bagger.
Allowing this young man who has Down syndrome to use his greatest talents in the workplace will be a huge step in avoiding depression.
The people at school and the local Food Town stepped up to the plate and pounded the pitch out of the park. The store loaned the school a plastic shopping bag holder and the teachers and para-pros began teaching Jack how to bag. (Alright. Good! But next time the cans go in first and the bread goes in last! In fact, it would be best if you always did it that way!) After he got pretty good at bagging order, one of the para-pros, who works with Jack at school, took it to the next level. She spent two hours, twice a week, standing next to him at the grocery store while he bagged. The most difficult part of his training has been keeping the line moving. Jack loves talking to all of his friends (everyone) who comes through the line and they are just as happy to visit with him. Allowing this young man who has Down syndrome to use his greatest talents in the workplace will be a huge step in avoiding what we often see as depression in teens with Down syndrome. Jack doesn’t get that bagging is work, and that he gets paid for working. To him, bagging is helping his friends (the customers). The management personnel at Food Town are his friends and they give him money. How awesome… Everyone is doing something nice for their friends. What a world! We’re hoping that continued training over the next school year will get Jack to the point where he can spend a few hours a day, several days a week, working at the grocery store over his next summer vacation. That would really help his attitude to remain pristine over summer vacation. If he needs more time, that’s OK. We just need to have him ready to move on, just like his friends do when they’re finished with their time in high school. The Food Town is the perfect place for Jack to continue to be out in the community, making and maintaining friendships. That is what he does best.
Depression in teens with Down syndrome should come as no surprise when we set limits lower than Down syndrome or any other intellectual disability does.
Of course we have parenting plans to assist Jack in getting as much from his life as he can, and we are laying the groundwork, now. Will he get married? (I can tell you that at nineteen, it’s one of his biggest concerns for his future. Jack wants his own home; his own family.) I hope that he will be able to reach these goals, because that would make him the most happy. I think that is the point. As Jack’s parent, I have learned from teachers and peers who have made my son’s life all that it has been to this point. If I want to avoid Jack becoming depressed, I must do everything I can to continue to use his condition of Down syndrome to make his life experience better, in his eyes. Depression in teens with Down syndrome should come as no surprise when we set limits lower than Down syndrome or any other intellectual disability does. Rather than looking at what our children with disabilities won’t be able to do, we need to focus on everything they are able to do. Then we need to help them to reach, to stretch, to achieve and to continue to grow. I’ve got to tell you; if others set limits for me, before the physical and mental limits that are set by nature, I would be a textbook for depression, with or without Down syndrome.
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