Tara arrived at the hospital at five o’clock in the morning. Three minutes later Makenna was born. Immediately her baby girl was rushed out of the delivery room, the doctors citing breathing difficulty as the only reason. It wasn’t until two hours later that Tara’s doctor finally told her that they were testing her daughter for Down syndrome.
“I was confused. It took two hours before they told me what was wrong with her. My doctor said he was going to run all the tests, but that he was 99% sure based on her feet and her features that she had Down syndrome,” said Tara.
Immediately she began to fear the unknown. “At first, I wanted to say ‘why me?’” Many questions ran through her head. “What was I going to do, how was I going to feed her, is she going to need surgery? It was scary at first. Then when I saw her for the first time eight hours later, she had tubes and I-Vs and I didn’t know what to do.”
As a mother of a two-year-old, Tara was quick to accept and love baby Makenna. “I realized this is what God gave me,” she said. “This is my daughter and I can’t change anything.” From there, Tara started researching to learn everything she could about Down syndrome. In fact, she even sought a job working with individuals with special needs to gain more knowledge.
Tara’s career track led her to an organization in Valley Center, Kansas and then in 2004, she began working as
a paraeducator at the Heartspring School. “After I had Makenna I wanted to work with other children so I could learn what I needed to do to help her. I figured since I will work with her on a daily basis, I could help other children as well.”
From the time Makenna was three weeks old, she has been receiving therapies to aid in her progress. Today at seven years old, she is close to the same level as her peers when it comes to her fine and gross motor skills. However, when Makenna began school, Tara realized that she would need additional help with speech. As an employee of Heartspring, Tara knew just where to turn.
In January 2007, Makenna started seeing speech-language pathologist Debbie Harr at Heartspring Pediatric Services. According to Harr, Makenna was shy and quiet at first and had trouble producing anything more than single syllables. “She made very few spontaneous verbal speech attempts,” said Harr. “And further, she did not easily imitate speech that I modeled for her.”
Using visual cues paired with spoken words helped Makenna say a series of two then three syllables. Now she is saying two or three words combined into short phrases and working hard to imitate increasingly more complex word structures.
Recognizing verbs or actions words also proved difficult for Makenna. “Giving her verbal directions usually resulted in a puzzled look and a questioning inflection as she repeated the last word of my sentence,” said Harr. “We had fun learning to identify objects or pictures when I named an item’s function or some of its physical characteristics.”
Now Makenna shows off her growing vocabulary and word relationship skills. “Makenna now works hard to listen more carefully and to understand,” said Harr.
Tara cannot say enough about the progress her daughter has made while working with Harr.
“Debbie is awesome,” said Tara. “She’s patient and has done so much with Makenna. At first, Makenna was maybe saying five words that you really couldn’t understand. We started out with Debbie who showed us that Makenna could understand words. That was a big step. Now she’s able to communicate with me a lot better.”
Of course, being able to communicate more has provided some interesting situations at home according to Tara. “Since she’s been able to talk where we can understand her better, she’s been bossing her older brother and little
sister around more too,” she said.
Despite being bossed around on occasion, Makenna’s siblings, Sabian and Willow, are very protective of their sister. “If other kids can’t understand what she’s saying they will interpret
for her,” said Tara. “We’ve taught them everybody is the
same and not to treat anyone differently. I’m hoping that with this knowledge they will treat everyone who has a disability with respect.”
In addition to Harr, as a member of the Heartspring staff, Tara has been able to utilize others at Heartspring as resources for raising Makenna. “Heartspring is my family, “ she said. “I’ve gotten so much support and advice from the outpatient (Heartspring Pediatric Services) side, teaching me how to work with her at home and at school. On the (Heartspring) school side I’m always learning from the kids. And I’m using what I’ve learned with her with the students.”
Tara hopes the world is able to embrace Makenna. “I’m extremely proud of her,” she said. “She’s her own person and can learn just like everybody else – just at her own pace.”
“The world needs to know not to look at kids with disabilities differently. They have something to give and they want your time, patience and to learn from you, just as you can learn from them.”