You know those trips organized by campus ministries every year, where college kids go to build houses in Appalachia or Central America? I never did one of those. I was way too timid (shocking, I know) and way too comfortable in my own ordinary. Those kinds of missed opportunities are the only real regrets I have about my life.
These days, Spring Break is usually a week I simultaneously try to a) pretend isn’t coming and b) plan to fill with activities so my kids don’t destroy 1) my house or 2) my sanity and their own before it’s over. This year was particularly worse than usual because A) my husband was out of town for the first 4 days of it and B) IT RAINED ALMOST THE ENTIRE FREAKING WEEK.
Of course, I didn’t know point B when I first heard that the University of Illinois was doing a study on how children with Down syndrome learn to communicate. I did, however, know that we had tickets to see The Illusionists in St. Louis at the end of the week, courtesy of Santa (wink-wink). I suggested to Christian that we could go to Champaign-Urbana and participate in the study and visit his brother and sister-in-law there and do some travel writing visits and the show in St. Louis on the way home.
Thus it was that last Thursday afternoon, Julianna and I spent an extremely cool, rainy day in adjacent rooms on the U of I campus, doing our tiny part to aid the future of the Down syndrome community. They put me in a room next door, where I could watch on a computer monitor while I filled out six, yes, six, questionnaires about our family, Julianna, and communication. (The height of irony: the woman who complains about paperwork every single time volunteers to do a whole stack of it.)
They started out by asking Julianna to complete some tasks without any verbal cues at all—only by silent modeling. Then they moved on to patterns and recognition of facial expressions and all kinds of things. Some of it I missed, because I had my own tasks to complete once my paperwork was finished. I’m not entirely sure how this fits into the big picture—we can only assume they wanted to compare the abilities and strategies of typically-developing parents with those of their developmentally disabled children.
It was a visual test, mostly. They started out with visual analogies: a picture of one tree beside a picture of three trees. Then a picture of a single flower and a blank, and I had to point to the picture below that showed a bunch of flowers. I settled in for an enjoyable ride. Until they switched to patterns, and then my analytical brain kicked in, thinking, oooh, a nice spatial challenge.
But folks, those things got HARD. For a while, I tried to do all the thinking in my head, but it got to the point where I said, “Um, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to let me talk this through.”
This was one of the last ones:
When I saw this, I admit, I whimpered a little in my heart and considered pointing to a random image, because saying “I have no idea” was not an acceptable answer. Eventually I narrowed it down to two and gave it my best guess. My brother-in-law, that night, paused in the act of scrubbing oysters and spent thirty seconds staring at the puzzle, talking through it, and pointed to the right answer. I went, Oh! Now I get it!
(Alex and I did each eat a raw oyster that night. In case you’re wondering. Another first.)
After the puzzles, I had to choose the image on the page that illustrated the word or phrase the examiner read to me. And then it was concept riddles, for example: something you see through, has a sill, and is put in a wall. Most of them were not much more difficult than that, but a couple of them tripped me up.
My brain was completely shot by the time we were done, but I had one more task: take a picture book without any words at all and read it to Julianna on camera.
I can only imagine Julianna’s was even more exhausted than I was, by the time it was over with, but it was a good experience. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of it. They’ll be collecting data for several more months, so if there are any readers interested in giving this a try, here’s one more image to point you in the right direction:
Oh yes, incidentally–The Illusionists? FABULOUS. And the Fox Theatre in St. Louis? Wow. And not just because of the architecture. That was the most helpful, courteous theater staff I’ve ever encountered.