By SHREYA POLADIA
Canyon Ridge student
“Yay! No more school” I hollered when my mom read me an email from school regarding COVID-19 pandemic. I was so excited and happy! I had been hoping for this since spring break 2020 started. No more early mornings, No grading, No STAAR tests! All the virtual work given was so easy! I woke up late, every day was like the weekend. What was not to love!
But as days turned to weeks, I started getting increasingly worried about the pandemic because cases were starting to rise. So, I started reading about what other teens and tweens were doing to help around in their neighborhoods. Some were drawing nice messages on the sidewalk while others were raising money for food banks. Some were providing tutoring help while others were helping make masks. Some were selling smoothies to raise money for people in need while others were taking online classes to help kids and families. I wanted to help too but was not sure what to do!
I had a few ideas, but my mom said that my staying in the house was crucial given that I had a brother with disability, and he was a high risk for COVID-19. The best thing I could do was to stay at home. I brainstormed what I could do. Then it struck me! I could help my brother.
Lately, as I started middle school, spending more time with him was tough. I was always busy with schoolwork and after school activities and I knew he missed me a lot. I thought it was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with him. I decided to start spending time with my brother, helping him, playing with him, and teaching my brother math, reading and science.
The next morning, I told my brother, “Raj, I’m going to start teaching you math and science.” He got super excited. He started jumping and smiled at me. I looked at Raj and I felt uncontrollably happy. I smiled at him and gave Raj a big hug.
Let me tell you a little about my brother. He is 14-years-old and is home schooled. He has a diagnosis for Down Syndrome and Autism.
He loves doing math and going on bike rides. My brother is very good at playing piano and typing. He does household chores like his own laundry, folding it and putting it away, and unloading the dishwasher. He can do everything I can do, just needs more time. Because of
his diagnosis, some things are hard for him. He has speech delays and low muscle tone. The low muscle tone makes everyday things that we take for granted, very hard for him. Social interaction is also hard for him because he has anxiety. But he does not quit and we never quit on him. He works very hard. We have the same rules and expectations from him like everyone in the house. We offer to help but we do not do things for him.
The pandemic was extremely hard for him. The change in the routine, not going out much, not seeing people, not having friends over was tough for him. Due to speech delays, he could not even express his thoughts and feelings and that made him overwhelmed and anxious all the time. So, I came up with a routine and a plan to work with him.
We started slowly incorporating work and play. I would ask him questions like “What are the planets?” and “What are the two poles on a magnet?” as we went through experiments and videos. At first, we only sat for 15 minutes but, slowly we started working for longer and longer. I had a lot of fun doing experiments with Raj.
For math I started by getting a gauge on what he could and could not do. We quickly went through concepts like addition, subtraction, and multiplication but division was a little harder for him. After he mastered those skills, I taught him a few new things I thought were important like comparing numbers. Finally, we started doing Prodigy together online. At first Prodigy was good and at the right level for him. After some time though some things were challenging for him.
It was hard to teach new concepts because I was doing them the way I was thought in
school. He was a more visual learner and it took him more time to understand the same thing. For something that takes me 5 minutes to learn it takes him 15 minutes to learn. With the help of my mom I learned how to teach the same thing in different ways.
I think that I learned so much about my brother in our little sessions. I have always thought of myself as a patient person but after I worked with my brother, I learned what patience really is! It was a whole new level of patience and understanding.
Repetition and consistency were the key elements in working with him. We worked every day and kept going without quitting even when things got harder. I learned different ways to teach the same thing. I had read that kids with Down Syndrome can learn and do everything their typical peers can and my brother proved it right. With patience and perseverance, he learned with me.
Hands on techniques worked the best for him! Sometimes we just must change our approach
and we can see amazing results! I had to come up with fun, silly, and innovative ways to make the same boring studies, exciting for him. Both of us really enjoyed working together. I had fun teaching him in different ways and he had fun learning. Working with my brother was a real eye opener as to how hard it is to learn with a condition like Down Syndrome. The low muscle tone affects every part of your body so everyday things that we take for granted are so hard for him. I realized how fortunate I am!
It really makes me sad when kids with Down Syndrome are called stubborn. Are they stubborn or are we failing to come up with fun exciting ways to teach them? I learned that our actions define their outcome. If I was in a good happy mood while teaching him, I got a lot of work done. If I was irritated, he could sense it and that affected his working. I learned to change my attitude for better outcomes. I learned before blaming someone, we must make sure that we have tried hard enough to help them.
After working and playing more with my brother I realized what a big difference it made in his life and in mine too! Now I want to be able to spread this around and help other people with a disability. I matter because I can make a change. I can change the way people think about Down Syndrome or any other disability. I can change people’s perspective about looking at a disability. I can bring about this change by increasing awareness among people. Awareness increases acceptance. I matter because I want to spread kindness, love, equality, and respect for all people with disabilities in our communities, neighborhoods, schools and in our hearts!
Shreya Poladia, a 7th grader at Canyon Ridge Middle School, won the Award of Excellence at the district level for her literature submission ” Charity Begins at Home” for Reflections 2020-21. The topic for Reflections for this year was ” I Matter Because…”. Her literature further went to the state level.
World Down Syndrome Day March 21
Shreya Poladia, a 7th grader at Canyon Ridge Middle School, is raising money and donating 100% of the net profit to the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas. Poladia is hosting a virtual art show this month to support World Down Syndrome Day on Sunday, March 21: pitredeepali.wixsite.com/shreya-artshow