Routine. Patience. Kindness. Joy. Trust. My public library has taught me the true meaning of these words. You see, my 9-year-old son, Casey, who was born with Down syndrome, decided this was the year to discover the Des Plaines Public Library. Along the way, we discovered that learning doesn't have to be slow. It can be a case of speed reading measured in people's response to the two of us visiting the library every day after Casey gets home from school.
Routine. Casey thrives on routine, as most children do. But along with Down syndrome, Casey also deals with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and a variety of other behaviors that can be trying and down-right scary.
Casey has walked out of the house without telling anyone, and he has disappeared in stores and in parks faster than you can blink your eyes. But he can, and does learn. And routine has become an important part of the equation.
Although the library is within walking distance, here in Illinois, winters can be cold. So mostly, we drive in the "blue car." We park in the library garage. We walk in the pedestrian walkway. Casey pushes the automatic handicapped-door opener. We enter the library and take the stairs to the second floor. Casey picks out one (!) video and we go to the elevator. Casey pushes the "down" arrow button, waits for the elevator door to open, enters the elevator, pushes the "one, star" button, and we descend to the first floor. Casey goes to the check-out counter where the clerk (any clerk!) calls him by name, and comments on the video we check-out. Casey practices "thank-you" and "good-bye" every time we go to the library. As we leave, he presses the automatic door opener again. We find the car easily, even though it isn't always parked in the same place. Surprise! Such is our routine. And on this routine we have built our new list of words.
Patience. At first, Casey could spend 45 minutes picking out a video. It had to be Barney or Elmo, nothing else would do. But as my patience grew,
Casey became more decisive. He could quickly pick a video. Sometimes in a minute or two. And surprisingly, as his decision-making ability quickened, his variety increased. I guess patience really is a virtue. At the very least, it is a wonderful tool to use to help my child learn.
Kindness. As I mentioned before, the library clerks all know Casey by name. They don't act interested in Casey's video choices. No one could act that well. They truly are interested in Casey's video choices. They take time
to ask him about the video he's taking home. And they smile at him. And they smile at me. And there is kindness in their smile.
Joy. So Casey takes the stairs to the second floor every time we go to the library. He only goes "up the down" side of the staircase. But he is always polite. He says, "Oh, sorry," as people shift to the other side of the stairs as they come down. Again, the smiles. But there's more. Casey will often greet the other patrons with a huge "HI!" All kinds of people pass Casey on the stairs. Even grumpy old men. Especially grumpy old men who light up when Casey says "HI!" In fact, they often say happily, "Hi buddy, how ya doin'?" There is joy. In them. In me.
Trust. Many of the library staff know Casey. They watch for him. They ask where we have been if we've missed a day. Because of this familiarity, I have been able to trust Casey a little. He can now go up to the second floor without me, pick out a video, and come down on the elevator by himself, while I pay a fine (or two, or seven) at the front desk. I catch up with him at the check-out desk and we complete our routine together. We have learned so much at our library. Casey can't read words yet. But he sure can read people. And now I can read people too. Our library has truly changed our life.