Close your eyes and imagine yourself a 23-year-old young female finding out that you are pregnant for the first time. Imagine 9 months of that baby growing inside you, feeling every kick, every punch, every hiccup and every turn that baby makes. Now imagine laying your eyes on that baby for the first time. What do you see? Would it be a baby moving his arms and legs frantically and screaming at the top of his lungs? Or would it be a baby boy with his eyes wide open studying the world he just came into? Neither one of those would be what I experienced. My son came into this world with the lightest cry, one in which the entire room would have to be silent to hear. His eyes were not wide open but rather closed tightly shut. He did nothing but lay there in the doctor’s arms like a limp noodle. When I was finally given the opportunity to lay eyes on my little guy, I knew exactly what all the commotion was about. Tanner had the 7 main characteristics of Down Syndrome. Lab work confirmed his diagnosis a week later. We had to spend an extra night in the hospital because he couldn’t eat. His muscle tone was so low that he wasn't strong enough to suck from a bottle or to swallow.
Once we came home from the hospital I spent weeks doing research on what exactly Down Syndrome was. I knew it was up to me to not only educate myself so I could provide the very best for my son, but to educate my family as well. I also talked with several people that had a child with Down Syndrome to see where I needed to start. I ended up at a dead end.
When Tanner was just 2 weeks old, I enrolled him into early intervention services that would help him build his muscle tone. I knew with the Down Syndrome he would have delays, but when he couldn't hit the simplest of milestones I became increasingly frustrated. He didn't start holding his head up on his own until he was 9 months old. Playing with toys was a difficult task for him. He couldn't hold a toy in his hands until he was 12-13 months. He was unable to sit on his own until he was 15 months old. He didn't start eating solid foods until about 18-19 months old, and when he figured out how to crawl, it was strictly army crawling, which he did for almost a year.
It wasn't until after he had turned 2 that I realized that the services he was getting were not enough. He still wasn’t babbling like he should have been, he wasn't crawling and he wouldn't pull himself up to anything. It was then that I was offered a job at Heartspring and I immediately scheduled evaluations for speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy for Tanner. Within months of receiving services, Tanner was crawling on all fours, babbling like he had just found his voice and was very enthusiastic about putting balls "in" a bowl.
Tanner attends therapy three times a week. He starts with speech therapy with Rhonda Witherspoon. He then sees Cheryl Jabara for physical therapy and finishes the week with Mimi French, his occupational therapist. He doesn't see going to therapy as work but an opportunity to play. He has been coming to Heartspring for over a year and the progress that he has made is just astonishing. Not only is he more vocal, but he understands that there is somewhat of a communication block between him and his world and he strives everyday to mimic what he hears. Within the last week, he can now count up to 3 with some guidance. He was walking within 4-5 months after working with Cheryl. Now, he is running and even plays a little soccer in the back yard. Occupational therapy has been more of a challenge for him. His fine motor skills have been greatly affected. When he began services with Mimi, he couldn't even perform the simplest of tasks like turn a page of a book. Now, not only can perform that task but he can draw a circle and vertical/horizontal lines.
I couldn't begin to tell you how proud I am of my son for his hard work and persistence in accomplishing the simplest tasks that we take for granted. He works ten times harder than we do to just stand up, find a way to tell me he is hungry or thirsty, or to just simply pick up his fork to get food in his mouth. He would not be where he is today if it weren't for the help and guidance of his therapists. He has a rock-solid support system at home but it's wonderful to know that he gets that same support at Heartspring, too. Tanner has opened my eyes to a world that I could have never thought possible. I was given an opportunity to care for God's greatest gift and Heartspring has helped me.