Thursday, October 25, 2012

Birthday Bash

To follow up with my visit to Antalya's classroom, Jason and I decided we needed to throw a big birthday bash for Antalya and invite all of her classmates and they other kids with Down syndrome in her school, so they could interact with Antalya in a fun, controlled-by-us, environment, and see that other people have Down syndrome too.

Her birthday fell during Fall Break, so we had to postpone the party for the week after her birthday, but I don't think Antalya minded.

I was worried we wouldn't get many people, but ended up with almost every child in her class, plus the kids from her special ed class. In total, we had about 30 little kids running around our place.

Luckily the weather was amazing and we were able to keep all the activities outside.

The goal was to create a party set up that would allow all the children to have fun, and give Antalya the flexibility to interact with them without having to participate in all the activities if she didn't want to. The last thing I wanted was for either her or me to get frustrated because it was time to play a certain game and Antalya didn't want to. So we came up with a carnival theme, and then made some changes to turn it into a Halloween party.

We had a food table that the kids could help themselves to, and different stations set up around the yard with games and prizes. My brother-in-law was kind enough to make balloon animals for all the kids. The stations were pin the face on the pumpkin, pumpkin bean bag toss, pumpkin bowling, donuts on a string, and making carmel apples. I had adults at all the stations to help the kids and give them their prizes.

When everyone was through with the games, we broke open the piƱata and had cupcakes. The Birthday Girl was on cloud 9 all evening from all the attention and presents, and all of the kids left happy. I consider the party a huge success!

It was a lot of work to plan and put on, but I have really noticed a difference just in the last week in the way her classmates treat her. One of the cutest things that happened at the party was when a little girl walked up to me and said, pointing to one of Antalya's friends with DS, "does that girl have Down syndrome too?" I think it helped her classmates to see that other kids have DS, and it's alright because they can all have fun together.

Teaching Kids About Down Syndrome

Several weeks ago, I visited Antalya's Kindergarten class to talk to her classmates about Down syndrome. This was an entirely new experience for me, and one that I thought I wouldn't have to take on until at least 1st grade, but the more Jason and I watched her with her classmates and talked about it, we decided it needed to happen. I got some great ideas from this blog.

Here's a run down of what I did; hopefully it can help out someone else.

I started by asking all the kids to look around and name all the things they saw about each other that was the same (all have noses, eyes, hair, shoes, etc). Then I asked them to look around and tell me some of the things that were different (hair color/length, size, clothes, eye color, etc). Then I told them I was going to read them a story about two little kids that were best friends. And I asked them to listen for all the things that were the same about the kids, and all the things that were different. Then I read My Friend Isabelle by Eliza Woloson (a great book about a little boy who is normal developing and a little girl with Down syndrome).

When the book was finished we talked about some of the differences between the two kids. Then I told them that like the little girl in the book, Antalya was born with something called Down syndrome. I didn't get too technical, but just mentioned that inside all of our bodies are chromosomes that tell our body what color hair we will have, what things we will be good at, what color our eyes will be, etc. Most people are born with 46 chromosomes, but Antalya was born with 47. Because she has one more, it makes some things easier for her, and some things a lot harder for her.

I talked to them about some of the things that are really easy for Antalya (she's flexible, she's really good at sharing, she's good at showing love and is a really good friend, and I threw in the fact that she is better on computers and iPhones then most adults). Then I had the class tell me some of the things they have noticed that are really hard for Antalya. Some of the things that came up were that it's hard for her to keep her shoes on :), it's hard for her to keep her hands to herself, it's hard for her to write, and that it is really hard to understand what she says. We talked about what to do if she starts playing with their hair, bugging them, or just won't keep her hands to herself (One sweet girl raised her hand and said Antalya likes to play her hair, I reminded her that she can tell the teacher if Antalya doesn't stop. But she quickly said, "no, I like when she does!").

Then I had all the kids put a big marshmallow in their mouth and try to tell me what they ate for breakfast. They thought it was hilarious that they couldn't understand each other. I explained that that is what it is like for Antalya - because her tongue is bigger, it's like she's always trying to talk with a marshmallow in her mouth.

We ended with talking about some of the things they could do to help Antalya. Then I gave all the kids a coloring book to take home so they could tell their families about Down syndrome (I didn't use all the pages; I took out the ones I thought weren't necessary). Overall, it went really good, and I was really glad that I did it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

School Days

I just walked in the door from dropping Victoria off at preschool.
I have piles of laundry.
A kitchen stacked high with dirty dishes, and breakfast remains still sitting out.
Bags of grocery sitting on the kitchen table waiting to be put away.
I have two exams this week that I haven't even begun to study for.
And in 45 minutes Antalya's school day ends, and I'm back to 100% mom mode.

Life is busy. Most days I feel a bit overwhelmed, but things are moving forward one step at a time.

Antalya is enjoying school. I'm realizing we've entered a whole new ball game with elementary school. Somehow I thought because she has always exceeded and had friends in preschool, that kindergarten would be the same. I thought the mainstream approach would just happen naturally like it does with all kids. But I have had to face the realization that special ed will always be a part of Antalya's schooling. She is in the regular kindergarten class for most of the time, but she has been really struggling with sitting for so long and listening to so much instruction. So every day they pull her out for 30 minutes to work on additional math skills with her and a few other special needs kids in the special ed room. She's also pulled out every week for OT and speech. For the most part, I think her classmates are nice to her. But they know she's different, and they don't understand why she acts the way she does. I'm going to talk to her class about Down syndrome this week with hopes that it will help ease some of the tension and help the kids understand ways they can help and encourage Antalya.

Victoria loves going to preschool. It's at a neighbors house, so it's been really fun to walk with her in the mornings and listen to her babble on and on about this and that. Her vocabulary is exploding lately. In fact, did you know that young children learn an average of two new words a day? Just a bit of knowledge I have gained from my own studies this semester! Victoria is definitely there.

Lately I am so amazed at how easy life is for Victoria. She learns things so quickly, and the world around her makes so much sense. She doesn't have to work hard at anything. And her sister works so hard at everything! The vast difference is on my mind a lot lately. I wish I could help people see just hard Antalya works. I wish her teacher and her classmates would see how hard she works. I wish the world could more easily see past her weaknesses and disabilities and see the amazing strengths she has to share.

Maybe it's that I'm finally stepping into an advocate role. Up until now, I haven't felt much need to advocate for my daughter. But now that elementary school has begun, I feel that for the most part, her happiness and success in school and life for the next 13 years depends a great deal on how well I can advocate for her. I can feel the extra weight on my shoulders. I can't let her down!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Back to School

It's back to school time at our house!

Antalya had her first day of Kindergarten.
She was so excited when I woke her up this morning and told her it was finally the day she could go to Kindergarten school. Her smile lasted all morning!

Last Thursday I got a call from the charter school I have been hoping and praying for, that they just had a spot come available for Antalya if we wanted it. After meeting with the special ed director and finding out she would have a one-on-one aide in a mainstream classroom, I jumped on it. I think it will be an ideal set up for this year. The school is only two miles from our home. There are four other little kids with Down syndrome at the school, and two of those had her same teacher for Kindergarten the previous two years. 

I have a feeling it will be a great year for my little girl!

And today was my first day back at school. I graduated with a bachelors eight years ago, and have been wanting to go back to school ever since but couldn't decide what I wanted to do. These last few years had me thinking more and more seriously about becoming a speech therapist. I finally feel like the time is right for me to take some classes part time. 

After some research I realized that in order to apply to the Master's program I have to have a undergrad in communicative disorders. So, today, I began work on my 2nd Bachelor's degree. It will take a couple years of part time classes before I can apply to the Master's program, but that's alright. 

And Victoria starts preschool next week. I decided that if I was going back to school, I needed a few quiet hours a week to get my studying done, so I found a neighborhood preschool three days a week for Victoria to go to. She is so excited!

So, here's hoping it's a great school year for all us girls in the house!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Horses and Haircuts

Antalya has just completed her summer riding lessons. It's been a great experience for her, and I'm hoping we are able to do another session sometime in the near future.

Although there are many places near us that offer riding lessons, we opted to drive the extra distance to the National Ability Center since we had such an amazing experience with them last winter with Antalya's ski lessons (and did I mention they have scholarships available to help cover some or all of the cost?).

At each lesson, before she could mount her horse, she had to brush her, clean out her hooves, help get the reins and saddle, and lead the horse around the arena. I love that they teach about the whole experience, and make the kids participate in caring for the horse.

Once her horse was all ready Antalya would go for a short trail ride with her horse. She had to tell it when it to go, "walk on", and when to stop, "whoa", and listen for prompts to turn left or right.

On a completely different note, Victoria decided to give herself and Antalya haircuts on Sunday while I was busy doing the dishes. When she was finished she came to show me. She was so proud of herself that it helped distill most of my anger. Luckily she just cut a few inches from Antalya's hair, who is now sporting a cute little bob cut (pictures coming soon). But on her own hair, she had cut it clear to the scalp in several locations, and completely butchered everything on top from ear to ear. It was a true mullet! She is now sporting a modern chic look. I still think she is completely adorable, and in some ways, the short hair shows off her dark eyes more.

Monday, August 13, 2012


The count down to school has begun.
Two weeks!
Just two more weeks until this house can get cleaned and organized again.
Just two weeks until we have a daily routine back.
 We've enjoyed the lazy mornings and late nights.
We enjoyed all the popsicles, splashing, campfires, and picnics.
 But I am feeling oh-so-ready for Fall!
Ready for structure.
Ready for busy mornings and early bedtimes.
Ready for whatever will come our way this next school year!
But for two more weeks we will soak up whatever summer is left!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Just Go With It

Today we took an unexpected road trip from home and back again. 

Jason was supposed to catch a Greyhound bus to Las Vegas this morning, but due to some miscommunications we got him to the bus station just as the bus was pulling out. We were left with no choice but to drive him the extra 2 1/2 hours to the next stopping place along the route so he could hop on the bus there. And then the girls and I would have to drive the 3 hours back home again. Since we were already an 1/2 hour from our home, there was no time to turn back and get whatever distractions we would normally bring along for a day in the car.

Luckily the girls and I left the house this morning all wearing shoes (this doesn't always happen), and I had grabbed my purse and phone out of habit. But that was about all we had. No books, no coloring pads, no DVD's, no snacks, and with no radio signal across central Utah the only music option available was an old (and somewhat scratched) CD of Shakira.

But we did it. And we even smiled along the way!

It was nice to have a few extra hours with Jason before we had to part, and we got to stop in for a visit at Auntie Gayle's house. Uncle Steve and her live the home that my great-grandfather built with his own hands 60 years ago, in a town so small there isn't even a traffic light. If you ask me, it's like visiting a little piece of paradise. And the girls love visiting because they have what Antalya has named the "princess house" playground, and a little jeep the girls can drive by themselves. And in their eyes, the thirty minutes to play at Auntie Gayle's house was well worth the 3 hours in the car to get there.
(The old one room log cabin in the background is the home that my grandfather was raised in, the newer cinderblock home in the far right corner is the one my great-grandfather built for his family with the life insurance money he received when his son was killed in the Korean war).

And tonight my heart is full of gratitude that what could've been a long and frustrating day turned out to be a very pleasant one. I am grateful for two little girls that have learned to just go with the flow. They constantly remind me to live in the moment, and enjoy the moment you are living. They are my heroes!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Beach

One of the highlights of our trip to California was the day we spent at the beach. It was the first time the girls have seen the ocean in a warm setting. Which, according to Jason is the only true way to experience the beach. 

The girls were in heaven!

The feel of the sand on our feet, the warm sun, the ocean breeze, and the waves crashing were enough for all of us to feel we had spent the morning in Paradise!


We're back from Disneyland!
It was everything we were hoping for and more!

Cars Land was as fun we imagined it to be.

We stumbled upon Aurora in front of her castle and didn't even have to wait in line to meet her.

My little princess waiting in line to meet Ariel and Tiana.

Teacup Smiles!

 Ariel was sweet.

 The Mickey Soundsational Parade was truly sensational! We watched it three times and could've watched it more if we had had more days.

My little Snow White got to give the real Snow White a hug!

And who doesn't love Goofy!

More to come...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Pasta Jar

This jar may not look like much, but let me assure you - it is magic. As in "the-most-magical-place-on-earth" magic!

For the last two weeks the girls have been earning pasta for good behavior, good listening, good helping, and so on. At the end of the day, I hand out the pasta they earned that day and they excitedly place it in our "pasta jar".

In just a few more days the pasta will reach the top of the jar and we will be on our way to Disneyland!

I can hardly wait!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The End of Preschool

Antalya is officially done with preschool.
It always felt like I had so long before I needed to start worrying about IEP's, school transitions, inclusion issues, and so on. 
I thought I would be so prepared when the day came.

But now it's here. And I'm not.

But regardless, time moves on, preschool has come to an end, and ready or not, Antalya is headed to Kindergarten in the fall.

Antalya has thrived in all the different preschool settings she has been. 
And this year was no different. 
We will miss her wonderful teachers and all the sweet kids in her class (especially one little boy that would occasionally say, "Antalya come sit by me" when I dropped her off. And everytime he did my eyes would swell up and I have to resist the urge to run over and hug him).

On the last day of school, Victoria and I joined her class for a picnic and party outside. 

There are many opinions, and every child is different, but for Antalya, I feel a mainstream classroom is where she needs to be. 
And I am completely unwilling to bend on that issue. 
Here in Utah, that is not the general rule. And even though Antalya has always attended a mainstream classroom and has done really well, the concluding opinion at her transitional IEP meeting was to send her to a special ed kindergarten class. 

I saw it coming, and in my panic decided the best course of action would be to apply to every charter school within 20 miles in hopes that I would find one with a small class size and a willingness to help every child in the class succeed. 

Maybe it was luck, or chance, or an answer to prayers, but she got offered a spot at a Montessori school  for next year. We'll have a 25 min drive each way, but the school has small classes and has already been down the road of helping a kindergarten child with Down syndrome succeed in a regular classroom. 

We thought it over and over, and decided the only downside was the drive, and it was by far the best option we had available for next year. So come next fall, Antalya will start her elementary school experience in a mainstream classroom, where I know she needs to be. 
And I am so grateful!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Very Merry Un-Birthday To You!

I picked up an old VHS copy of Disney's Alice in Wonderland at the goodwill shop a few weeks ago. It has become the movie of choice ever since.

Today I did a little un-birthday party for the girls. Every time I said "un-birthday" Antalya would quickly reply with, "No, it's MY birthday!"

And so, a very merry un-birthday to YOU!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Little Miracles

It was time, once again, for our biannual visit to the dentist. It's always the same thing.
I beg, plead, coax, threaten, and anything else I can think of for 20 minutes before Antalya eventually opens her mouth just long enough for the dentist to quickly look inside, and if he's lucky, get a good look at her molars (where cavities are more likely).

We count that as a successful visit, and leave with hopes that next time will be better.

And was!

Six months ago I never would have believed this picture could be possible.

But there it is. Proof that my girl sat in the dental chair, leaned back, opened her mouth, and let a stranger clean her teeth for several minutes.
Miracles happen!

And today's miracle was made possible by this cute little sister that showed her big sister there was nothing to fear.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Tooth Fairy

I was fixing breakfast when I happened to glance over at Antalya who had her hand in her mouth, and a sudden look of fear on her face.
I knew what was happening before I even looked in her mouth.
I admit, my first impulse was to panic. And I did for a minute.

But then, my first born surprised me (as she usually does).
She got excited about that little wobbly tooth in her mouth and couldn't stop playing with it.
And for three days she proudly showed everyone her loose tooth.

And then as we were getting ready for bed, and Antalya was practicing her singing in the bathroom mirror, the little thing popped right out.
She stopped singing just long enough to reach in, pull it out, flash me a smile, and hand the tooth to me.
Then she was right back to her singing, as if something huge hadn't just happened.

I tried to explain the Tooth Fairy.
Antalya wasn't interested at all, but Victoria got excited thinking Abby Cadabby (the fairy from Sesame Street) was coming to their room that night.

The Tooth Fairy came.
Antalya did really care.
But Victoria still talks about when Abby Cadabby came to their room and took Antalya's tooth and brought her some money.

And now, (even with a dirty face) Antalya has just climbed at least ten notches on the cutest scale!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ski Lesson I

Today was the day!
My little girl put on a pair of skis for the first time.
ski lesson1
The boots were heavy.
The sun was shining.
The instructor was perfect.
There were lots of smiles.
And she's excited to go back next week!
Picnik collage

Victoria and I only stuck around for the first few minutes to take a some pictures. I'm pretty sure she was the only one on the slope rocking pink shades and striped sock shoes. She played the very concerned younger sister and didn't want to leave Antalya's side.
Picnik collage

Jason strapped on his skis and stayed with Antalya for the session to help her feel more secure. He said she did really well, and once the instructor put the leash on her which allowed her more independence, Antalya really loved it.

She's got four more lessons to go. I think by the end of the session she will be pretty confident in a pair of skis!

Now for any of you that live in Utah and have kiddos with special needs I must add that I was incredibly impressed with the National Ability Center. They teach recreational and sports activities to children and adults with all sorts of special needs. This is our first experience with them, but I think after today, this will be an organization we will turn to for many things for years to come.

  • I was impressed that they gave detailed directions to their office (including which way to turn when you exited the elevator). It is so frustrating wondering around lost when I'm trying to keep Antalya with me. 
  • They provided free parking that was really close to ski slope. No battling with the crowds for a spot.
  • The lessons are private, so Antalya had one-on-one attention the entire time. 
  • The instructor was amazing. I filled out pages of information in order to register which included questions about how to best communicate with the child, and how to handle situations when the child is uncooperative. The instructor carefully read over all of it, and used key phrases I had written down that help Antalya stay focused, listen, and communicate.
  • They provided all the equipment, including helmet and goggles.
  • They are very reasonably priced.
  • They offer a ton of classes from skiing, snowboarding, swimming, horseback riding, rock climbing, and so on. 

So go check them out!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


I know most of you moms will think I am absolutely crazy when I admit...
I love evaluations!
Sure, it highlights all the things Antalya isn't doing that her peers have already mastered.
But, it's a chance for her to show off all the things she CAN do!
I'm sure it helps that my daughter is a performer. You get her in a room with several sets of eyes on her and she just eats up all the attention.

Today Antalya was evaluated for adaptive PE services.
Victoria and I served as her cheerleaders during the process.
It was so much fun watching her do her best to catch a ball, jump over a rope, hop on one foot, gallop, and throw overhand.
But the highlight of my day was most definitely watching my little girl try to walk sideways across the gym floor. At first she couldn't figure out why everyone was walking sideways when it was so much easier to just turn and walk normal. But she did her very best to follow the instructions, and very slow, but steady took one step after another, eventually making her way.

You should have seen the smile on her face!!
(And my grin was just as big!)

She wasn't the least bit concerned that she didn't have perfect form, or that she went incredibly slow, or that it was really difficult for her. She was just thrilled that she had tried, and somewhat succeeded at a new task.

And that is one of the many things I love about my Antalya!

Friday, March 2, 2012

First Day on the Slopes

Antalya resists things she doesn't understand.
Especially if that something involves anything else touching her, or any stranger talking to her. 
This is why we continue to struggle with things such as band-aids, visits to the doctor, and her hair pulled back in a ponytail.
So when it comes to new experiences, we try to expose her to as much of the new experience we can before the actual experience.

Next week Antalya will have her first ski lesson at the National Ability Center.
We really, really, really want this to be a positive experience! 
Jason and I enjoy skiing, and it would be so great if this were something that we could do as a family. 
And it's right up her alley - Antalya loves speed, loves being outside, and loves anything she can control herself. 
So to get her ready for her first experience, we decided to take the girls to a local ski resort, watch the skiers, and have a picnic. 

The weather was absolutely gorgeous. 
Fresh snow, the sun shining, and blue sky. 
ski slope

We took time to point out the big boots, the tall skis, the helmet, the gloves, the coats, etc.
And then watched as the skiers young and old came down the hill and then stopped. 

After our picnic, we decided it wouldn't hurt to ask if we could hop on the lift since there were no lines.
They said yes!
Picnik collage

Watching the skiers whiz down the slope from way up high on the chair lift was perfect.
The girls love it!
It was a completely free family activity.
And hopefully when next Saturday rolls around and a stranger is trying to fit Antalya with a pair of skies, she will remember how much fun we had on our "ski picnic" and be happy to go along with the flow of things.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mr. Snowman

This winter has been full of lots of sunshine, and very little snow.

But last week we finally got hit with a small snowstorm.

So the girls finally got a chance to build their first snowman!
Picnik collage