[ther–uh-pee] – noun, plural ther·a·pies.
That's what dictoionary.com has to say about it. In the context of our kids with special needs, I suppose that #1 and #2 fit the best, don't they? Treatment of disease or disorder; curative power or quality.
Within the context of Down syndrome – that is, the presence of an extra chromosome – therapy as defined in #2 seems ridiculous. We know that the there is no "cure" for an extra chromosome. We know that a person with Down syndrome is born a person with Down syndrome and will die a person with Down syndrome. There is no "cure".
The question becomes really, what are we trying to do? Make a person with Down syndrome more like people without Down syndrome?
That is it, isn't it?
So then you start to wonder, why. Why encourage someone with Down syndrome to be more like people without Down syndrome?
And the answer seems to lie in the the perceived happiness of one with Down syndrome – that, with therapy, s/he will be able to communicate more efficiently, happily. That s/he will be stronger, better able to physically do what s/he wants. That life for the person with Down syndrome will be better somehow.
"Full potential" gets brought up a lot in Down syndrome circles.
The question then shifts to, well, what exactly is therapy – in action? It seems for many to be the presence of therapists, trained professionals who manipulate a person's body, mind, senses, spirit or speech to gradually achieve desired outcomes.
Right? That's it, isn't it?
Having quit almost all therapy that is available to us, I find myself wondering about this a great deal. Meaning no disrespect in any way, shape, or form to those that are solid-gold advocates of the "therapy" that takes the form of a trained professional – and no disrespect to the trained professionals themselves – isn't therapy, in the case of children with Down syndrome – simply full and intense inclusion, with guidance, in every aspect of daily life?
Isn't it working on gross and fine motor skills, eye/hand coordination through the manipulation of eating utensils?
Being provided a model?
Especially with a learning style that is largely hands-on, exploratory-and emulation based?
Yes, this can be equally applied to "school" – I am simply having a hard time wrapping my mind around our current notion that true learning, development, growth or rehabilitation of any sort needs to happen within the square corners of a room; that people with letters after their name and framed slips of paper on walls need to be involved for it to have value, real and true.
Learning to care for a growing life – to me, this is education. It's also therapy – to dig, water, weed and nurture.
Cleaning, setting up and filling a tub with water, manipulating water through fine holes, object transferral in fluid – all of this in my mind is both therapeutic and constitutes "learning".
Developing teamwork skills. Watching, learning.
I watch these two, so busy with their play. I watch my Moxie, who is incredibly strong, capable, communicative – and she has Down syndrome!
I think about the fact that Down syndrome is the most common genetic "disability" on this planet. Something in the region of 1 in 700. It's always been around. We really ran into trouble when we started institutionalizing people with Down syndrome (remember this post?). But if we skip back more than a hundred years, how was it then? How was it when we were cave people even? Because Down syndrome just as surely existed in that time as it does now.
These two are growing together. They are very different individuals and as such it seems they are providing one another with learning. And therapy.
And sometimes I wonder – isn't this enough? Isn't this what it's supposed to be about?
And I wonder if every single thing that I am doing with Moxie – from her home birth, the relentless breastfeeding, the opportunities and full, guided inclusion offered to her – if all this is leading her to where she is headed, this smart, capable, energetic little girl? Or was it genetics all along? What is the piece that makes a difference, if there is one at all?
This isn't a post about answers. It's a post about questions.
I'd love to hear what you think.
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.