Dedicated to Tanner.
This story is dedicated to the loving memory of Tanner Daniel Snyder.
The following is a letter from his mom:
My son was a fifth grader and smart as a box of rocks; not pretty ornate rocks mind you, but boring little pebbles that would have gotten lost lining a pathway no one would ever bother walking. At least that’s how I felt the educational system was treating him.
Don’t get me wrong. They loved Tanner. But then, everyone loved Tanner. He was your quintessential child with Down syndrome: everyone was the new best friend he just hadn’t met yet, hugs were plentiful, silly faces abounded and the dance moves? Don’t even get me started…That boy had rhythm that would make Elvis jealous. His uncle once clarified that he didn’t have Down syndrome, but rather Get Down syndrome. And he was right. So when it came to IEP’s we could waste a solid hour on how amazing my son was, how much they loved him, what a pleasure he was to have in class. (Granted, golden retriever puppies could all be similarly described.) But when it came to educating him? Why waste the time.
“Functional” was a word I heard a lot. It was also a word I learned to hate. They wanted to walk away from teaching academics and begin just ensuring he could function at the most basic of levels. Then again, to suggest we were walking away from academics lends one to believe that academics were actually being taught. To my dismay, I realized that in the fifth grade, they weren’t even teaching him the alphabet. “Reading circle” consisted of finger painting over super-sized letters on butcher paper.
My nights were soon spent online researching special education rights and laws before I would end up in a ball of tears, afraid that I was failing my child. With money I didn’t have I hired a special education attorney and we sued the school district. After the settlement I was confident that everything would change and they would begin teaching my son. It only got worse. They dug in their heels, locked arms and fervently declared that his instruction was appropriate; it didn’t matter that he couldn’t write the alphabet, couldn’t read a word, and had never read a sentence in his life.
Enter tears, again. And then wine, I drank wine, too.
My precious joyful son didn’t just have Down syndrome and mental retardation, he also had severe Apraxia of speech. He couldn’t speak intelligibly… so he couldn’t tell us what he knew, didn’t know or wanted to know. I just followed my gut that there was an intelligent boy trapped inside desperate to be recognized and let out.
A few months into my battle and a new dear friend referred me to “Terry Brown, the Down Syndrome Whisperer.” I wasn’t pulling any punches and was bringing anyone I could get to believe in my son to the proverbial table. “Will you be on Tanner’s team?” I emailed her. She agreed, we set a meeting time and she asked me to send 10 photos of his family or close friends, including a photo of Tanner. I had no idea what to expect.
We sat down in her living room. He crossed his legs and she spritzed herself with Focus Spray. “I am focused,” she said. And then she spritzed him and he naturally followed the cue. “I a totah,” he said. She then opened the customized “I SEE ME” book she had made especially for Tanner and quickly went through page by page, reading the book as she pointed to each word. Once she completed modeling how he was to read the book, they both adjusted their sitting position, another round of focus spray, and she opened the book for him.
He read it.
For the first time in his life, someone believed in my baby, knew he was capable, and was able to unlock the secrets to helping him learn. He read the book, front to back, within ten minutes of entering her home.
We left that afternoon armed with a box of books. Mrs. Brown had given him “I want…” “I have…” and “I like…” books to grow into in the coming weeks. I was given express direction to not push him. When we got back to the house he demanded his box of books. He read his “I See Book.” Then he wanted the others. Using the method she had modeled, I reviewed his new books once and he immediately began to read them on his own. We went to dinner and the book box came with us. At the restaurant, we read. It was like the flood gates had been opened and he was so hungry to be taught! I couldn’t get him to stop. He was 10 years old and in fifth grade and for the first time he was being given the gift of learning. And he was SO HAPPY TO LEARN!
The weeks flew by and three months later we were walking into an IEP. Sitting down, I requested they include a goal to teach my son the alphabet. They declined. In fact, I was told that: “The alphabet was not relevant to his future goals.” Hiding my utter disdain for an institution that would tell me my son would never even write the alphabet, I politely persisted. “Well, we’d have to get a baseline first to even see if it’s a realistic goal,” they smirked. Surely they believed they would be able to kill the goal right there! It was then that I realized they were not even attempting to teach him the alphabet. Finally, I couldn’t contain myself any longer, I opened the laptop I had brought with me and turned on a video of Tanner writing the entire alphabet with just a few errors. In three short months, Mrs. Brown and her So Happy to Learn program had accomplished a goal his teachers didn’t see him ever accomplishing. He was reading at least 30 high interest words, reading simple sentences and working on single-digit addition.
Over the years, Tanner’s speech improved very little, but his love for reading and writing kept making headway and his writing, thanks to Mrs. Brown, became one of the primary ways we communicated. I’ll never forget the day I received his first expressive writing paper from him. It read: “Mom iPad” crossed out, with his name, Tanner, circled and the word “Yes” by it. Translated loosely it read: “Mom, you are not to take the iPad from me, I would like it back now thankyouverymuch.”
He got the iPad back.
Not long after, Tanner told us he wanted to go to the shoe. We struggled to understand his speech but I couldn’t figure it out. His younger brother, who spoke “Tanner” fluently, was stumped as well. The shoe? Eventually, he gave up. My heart was crushed as my child was trying so hard to express himself. Thirty minutes later he emerged from his room with a detailed drawing done of animals and the word “Zoo” written proudly on the sign.
You can guess where we pulled up to 23 minutes later.
It turns out my son was not as dumb as a box of rocks, but then… we all already knew that. It just took Mrs. Brown and her So Happy to Learn program to unlock the magic that was his mind. She opened up the world to my child and even though his beautiful, precious life was cut way too short at the tender age of 16, I will be forever in her debt.
While these words may tell his story, there will never be adequate words to fully explain what Mrs. Brown, her belief and this program did for my son, for me, and for our family. If you are considering it, I challenge you to invest in your child, to believe this program will unlock a love of learning for your child, and to invest your time and effort into seeing your child become a true learner.
Tanner and Travis’ Mom
Thank you for loving and teaching my child. And thank you for letting me a be a part of bringing this life-changing program to other desperate-like-me moms and children just waiting to be believed in.
All my love, gratitude and respect,
Tanner Daniel Snyder
July 4, 2000 ~ April 11, 2017
Forever Our Angel