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13 CARES: A local program is giving some special kids a chance at normal

When you get down to it — kids are kids.  Some like certain toys, others hate certain foods.  All of them laugh with a freedom – a genuine joy – that’s contagious.

“They have a lot of gifts, a lot of talents, and there are a lot of lessons we can learn from them.”   In that regard, Megan Christofferson is the student and her son Carsten is the teacher.  He’s changed the way she views everything.

“One of my favorite quotes is Einstein – he says, ‘if you judge a fish by his ability to climb a tree, he’ll think he’s stupid his entire life’, I think that is so true.  We judge people based on one set of lenses, one set of criteria and if they don’t fit in that criteria they’re discounted.”

Megan wanted more for her son.  A few years ago she and some other parents heard about “Gigi’s Playhouse” — a non-profit organization created for Down syndrome kids and their families.  “At that meeting, ten parents raised their hands and said – ‘oh yeah, let’s do this here’.  It’s amazing to look back in just two years and see how far we’ve come, how much we’ve accomplished, how many programs we’ve rolled out and how many lives we’ve touched.”

Bonnie Scott remembers the day doctors told her and her husband that their unborn son had Down syndrome.  “It was scary, that’s the best word.  Scary not knowing what the future holds for us.”  Bonnie says finding “Gigi’s Playhouse” changed her family’s life , “We just started crying when we made our first visit.  It’s beautiful that he has a place where he can play and see children that are like him and not feel different.  Plus, this is a great network of other moms that have all been there.  They’ll be like, ‘oh please he’ll be fine!  Stop worrying, what are you worrying about?!?'”

The Scotts have learned that there’s less worry and more love with little Aiden than they ever would’ve thought possible.  Their lives and all the others here are also changing the lives of volunteers like Katherine Hutchison.

“I think it’s good.  You develop as a person, you meet new people and see how you can help people and what change you can make without a whole lot of effort,” Katharine says, “you know, something small can be really big for someone else.”

Megan says a prime example is the literacy program at Gigi’s.  “You’re supposed to hit a line going up like this,” she demonstrates with her hands, “and Carsten is always trekking along at his own Carsten pace.  After a couple of those charts I was feeling a little down, and then they pulled out his literacy chart and he was literally a straight line UP and over his curve!  It was one of those moments where I knew what we had done here was the right thing for people with Down syndrome and I couldn’t have been prouder of Carsten.  I think the sky’s the limit for him and he can achieve anything he wants to and I’m just here to watch him do it.”

Bonnie says the openness among parents here is refreshing.  “People are coming out and saying, my kid is different – so what?!?  They should be treated normally, also.”  And as she points out – what is normal, anyway?  “Should there be a tattoo on his forehead that says ‘I have a disability’ or ‘I have Down syndrome, treat me differently’?  I don’t want that for my son.”

After all — kids are just kids.

“I don’t want anyone to cap him off and say that because he has this disability or an extra chromosome he can’t do this or he can’t do that.  We’re here to beat the odds – to show you we can do anything we want to do.  “

If you’d like to visit or volunteer at Gigi’s Playhouse – check out the website:

http://www.gigisplayhouse.com/location-Des%20Moines.asp

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