I love to read! My husband loves to read. When our children were born, we wanted them to love reading. We have three children – a 16 year old boy and a 15 year old girl who are typical learners, and our youngest child, Samuel. Samuel is 6 years old and has Down Syndrome.
When Samuel was born and I heard his diagnosis, I had many questions. One of the questions that I had from the very beginning was “will Samuel ever be able to read?” I asked doctors, teachers, and therapists, and no one would ever answer me. They said things like, “maybe,” and “some children with Down Syndrome learn to read.” I asked other parents of children with Down Syndrome, and their answers were mixed, too. These parents said things like “he knows a lot of sight words” or “she knows her letters,” or, worse, “I don’t know.” Then I met a woman who told me that her son with Down Syndrome (an adult now) loves to read and his favorite books are Harry Potter, and I rejoiced! I thought that if SOMEONE with Down Syndrome could read, then surely Samuel could also read one day.
I started looking for curriculum and tips and any information that I could find about teaching Samuel to read. If there was a book, I read it. If there was a special needs curriculum, I emailed them and asked about children with Down Syndrome. I messaged random people on social media who posted in a home school group about any suggestions regarding teaching Samuel to read. I approached people at home school conferences and asked about Down Syndrome. One very nice customer service woman told me that the program that she represented did help children with Down Syndrome read, but I needed to make sure that Samuel could write his lower case alphabet well before starting the curriculum. She might as well have said that I needed to walk to the moon first.
I had a 5 year old (at that time) son who resisted coloring, drawing, holding any writing implement, or anything else requiring fine motor skills in his hand. However, Samuel loved books and loved to have someone read to him. I wanted to help his love for books become independent reading, but I had no idea how to make that happen. I had seen So Happy to Learn, but it wasn’t obvious to me how it worked or how it is different from other curriculum choices. A family at my church told me that they had used SoHTL with their son who is older than Samuel. They liked the program. That suggestion got me thinking about So Happy to Learn.
During the pandemic, we were isolated at home for two years because of other health concerns. Samuel has a grant from a state group that helps with “extra” things that he needs. A woman from that program called me to say that, because of the isolation, the program would cover distance learning programs. My husband and I decided to try So Happy to Learn because it would be free for us for the first year.
Within the first two weeks of starting the program, I was blown away and started telling everyone I know about his wonderful program. I listened to all of the recorded calls. I cried when Mrs. Brown said “your child is a unique and capable learner.” She didn’t even know me then, and I didn’t know her. However, I know now that I was desperate for someone to bring me some hope. The other professionals that I met seemed to want to adjust my expectations. So Happy to Learn said that I could enjoy the journey and never have to limit my expectations for Samuel.
I also love that the SoHTL program fits any learner regardless of their abilities. This program can be customized for any learner and any family. My older children are attending an online Christian school. I had assumed that a Christian education was not a possibility for Samuel because he has Down Syndrome. While this program is a secular program, it also teaches me to teach Samuel. I am able to teach him about our family’s faith and values and that means so much to me!
When we started So Happy to Learn, Samuel was immediately drawn to the books and the process. Over the last year, Samuel has started to read. He still doesn’t choose to read for himself, but I know that day is coming. So Happy to Learn has changed his “want to.” Samuel is a reluctant learner. He resists anything that feels like testing. Samuel will sometimes refuse to work on his happy sheets and sometimes resist participating in our sessions. But Samuel also reads on his own when I’m not watching. And he draws pictures and describes the pictures. Samuel’s pictures still don’t look like much to others, but they are beautiful artwork to me. He describes his pictures with words like “fireworks at night” and “a cat looking at himself in the water.” Samuel’s articulation has improved so much. He wants to say the words because they are fun to say now. Samuel writes notes. I can’t read his notes, yet, but that day is coming, too. Samuel makes long notes with the words to songs. Again, these look like scribbles, but he is trying to do it on his own. Samuel is able to show me his interests through his pictures and words.
Samuel is 6 years old now (2022), and I know that his interest and joy in reading and writing will lead to results that others can see down the road. I have also learned that the only results that matter are the results for Samuel – even if no one else (all those therapists and other evaluators out there) sees him read and love to read, write and enjoy writing, learn and enjoy math, and enjoy art. I know that Samuel is learning to do those things. The most important part to me is that Samuel knows that he is learning to do those things. This program makes Samuel feel successful. Samuel says things like “I am smart.” Those words are priceless to me!