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"Can I hold my daughter, please?" My wife, Margie, had delivered our daughter, Chloe, on May 16th, 2003, and I knew there was something not right in the doctor's look and voice. Chloe aspirated during her entry into the world, and as they cleared her lungs I was relieved to hear a loud cry. Three years into my career as a police officer I had delivered a baby on a sidewalk, and I knew how important it was to hear that crying sound. The doctor approached us and stated in a very sterile voice that our daughter had "characteristics of Down syndrome." I did not know much about this diagnosis, but I said to the masked physician, "Can I hold my daughter, please?" to which he responded, "Yes, do you want to hold her?" I detected surprise in his voice, but Chloe looked right into my eyes and I instantly fell in love with her.
If Chloe had been born in 1963 (my birth year) she would have been labeled uneducable, probably placed in an institution, and would have had a shortened life of exclusion. Thanks to the strong foundation provided by Early Intervention and Early Childhood Education, along with a focus on ABILITIES, today Chloe is thriving and excelling in her community, school, church, and family.
When we brought Chloe home from the hospital after her birth we immediately began focusing on what supports and services she would need to have a great start. An awesome team of Early Intervention therapists, along with my wife Margie and son Nolan, who was 4 at the time, worked tirelessly and passionately to make sure Chloe had the best possible foundation for life. Margie and Nolan even taught Chloe to read at age 3, and now at age 7 she reads at the level of her peers. I was so amazed by the abilities of this little girl and the effectiveness of Early Intervention that I left my 20-year law enforcement career and went to school to receive my Masters in Early Intervention. I now work full-time as the Director of Community/Family Outreach for Early Intervention Specialists, and I chair the Pennsylvania Governor's Advisory Board for Early Intervention.
Early on as a family we made sure Chloe was included in everything we did and could meet as many people as possible. Her exposure to a multitude of community outings and family events greatly increased her social and communication skills, and she is now very comfortable in any type of venue. Chloe participated in a playgroup at 18 months, and attended her neighborhood preschool at age 3. The results were amazing, and when Chloe started kindergarten at her neighborhood school the principal called and said she was the most prepared student for kindergarten transition.
Chloe has planted more positive seeds in 7 years than most people do in a lifetime, and she never ceases to amaze everyone with whom she comes into contact. She has been in magazines, books, newspapers, and online articles. She appeared in a press conference with Governor Rendell, read to newly-elected Governor Corbett, and warmed-up with Andy LaRoche and the Pittsburgh Pirates. She was recognized on the floor of the State Senate after they declared World Down Syndrome Day because of Chloe's advocacy efforts for all children. She has been featured in an episode of the national TV series, "Facing Life Head On", which is nominated for a regional Emmy Award. I started a blog (http://chloesmessage.blogspot.com) so people could see the ABILITIES of children with Down syndrome and new parents could get excited about the future when they receive a precious gift like Chloe.
People ask me what it is like to change careers so radically, and I respond that I really have not changed my work focus at all. My mission is the same as during my days as a police officer: "To serve and protect."
Contributed by Kurt Kondrich, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Retrieved from the Web site of the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota (http://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/241). Citation: Palmer, S., Heyne, L., Montie, J., Abery, B., & Gaylord, V. (Eds.). (Spring/Summer 2011). Impact: Feature Issue on Supporting the Social Well-Being of Children and Youth with Disabilities, 24(1). [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration].
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