I remember when Dr. Garcia told us that Mike had Down Syndrome, I was so busy having some sort of out-of-body experience thinking this couldn’t possibly be happening to me, that I couldn’t even remember what Down Syndrome was! Nonetheless it was a real shock. I felt I needed to cry even though my brain hadn’t brought me up to speed with what was actually happening to us.
A few weeks later when we were seeing Dr. Garcia again in clinic she mentioned that perhaps we might like to go to JOG … JOG? What’s that? Why on earth would I want to spend my Wednesday mornings going to some sort of special needs playgroup, when I had already signed him up to the one my first son went to? I couldn’t quite get my head around what she was telling me. My brain has never worked well under pressure, and now was certainly no exception.
I still had very little idea what JOG was the first day I plucked up the courage to go. I remember walking into Ashtead Clinic with the realization that somehow this was the first step I had to take towards accepting that my son had a disability. It felt like a giant step that perhaps I wasn’t quite ready for, and all the time I had a feeling of fear – What was this group going to be like? – What were the other children going to be like?
Even after I saw the children’s smiling faces and had some friendly chats with the other Mums, it still took me a few weeks before I started to feel comfortable. Once I got to know the other people in my group, and got to know the routine, I started to relax. Soon the coffee break where Mike was cuddled for 30minutes by a therapist became my most favourite bit. I was released from the all-consuming caring role long enough to enjoy a cup of coffee and a biscuit. It was a REAL break where I could chat to my new-found friends; People who also had BIG things to come to terms with and who also spent a lot of time running around between various professionals. For me JOG was a place where the company of others was true, deep and without pretence. Sometimes, when I found myself having a bad day, I tried to put a brave face on, but I’ve never been very good at brave faces, and when I mentioned my sadness / anger / frustration / guilt, I was met every time with comfort and support. What great friends I had found!
Two years down the road, many things have changed. I now no longer see Mike’s Down syndrome as something to cry over. For me, it has been one of the most positive powerful life-changing events that I have ever experienced. I have gained so much knowledge and understanding of what things in life are important. I am motivated to learn more each day to the extent that I now want to go back to university to do a Masters in Speech Therapy. I also want others to learn more about disabilities: I try my best to talk openly and warmly to those who don’t know so much, so that when they look at my child they hopefully will see the child that I see: The child who smiles gleefully as he tips his dinner plate onto the floor, the child who laughs wickedly at me as he tries to escape at any opportunity, the child who has such a capacity for enjoyment, it is completely unsurpassed by any other person I have ever met. Of course he will face extra struggles in life, but I know there are kind, compassionate wonderful people in the world. I know – I met them at JOG, both parents and therapists alike.
One thing never changes though … In all the years I have been coming to JOG, all the friends I have made, not one of them has ever wanted to leave!