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I recently added a new term to my vocabulary. The term is “signature story”. A signature story tells about an event in your life that affects who you are today. The birth of our daughter is one of my families’ signature stories.

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After the 20-week ultrasound – we never expected our baby to live – she had a prenatal condition that always gets worse, and is always fatal. After walking and sobbing our way through some of the local cemeteries; after looking at caskets that were heartbreakingly small, a miracle happened – our fourth or fifth ultrasound revealed that our babies’ never reversing, always fatal, prenatal condition that was incompatible with life – reversed.

A few months later, on December 11, 2000, Annah Rose Huisman was born – alive – a few moments later, we found out she had Down syndrome.

When Annah was little, we couldn’t stop focusing on her disabilities. Over the years, even though the gap between her and her peers continues to widen, we have learned to focus more on Annah’s abilities.

"Over the years, even though the gap between her and her peers continues to widen, we have learned to focus more on Annah’s abilities."

In a lot of ways, she is a typical teenager. She plays soccer, she takes ballet lessons, and she is involved in her church youth group. But when you meet Annah, you will probably conclude that she has special needs because of her appearance. You will say to yourself, “I think that girl has Down syndrome”.

You will also quickly discover that Annah wants to engage you in conversation. She is very sociable. She will want to know your name. She will want you to know her name. She will want to tell you she is a teenager. There is a good chance that you will like her because she will find a way to make you laugh, to brighten your day, she will cause you to feel good about yourself, and she will bring out the best in you.

"… Annah has much more to tell you, much more to ask you, and much more love to give to you if you are patient with her."

You will also immediately realize that it is difficult to understand Annah’s speech. You will understand some of the words that she says, but for some of the time, you won’t have any idea what she is saying. Curiosity and kindness will cause you to ask her “What did you say?”. Annah will repeat herself, but if you don’t understand her the second time, you will most likely politely nod your head, smile, and start to think, “How do I politely get away from this little girl that I can’t understand?”.

However, Annah has much more to tell you, much more to ask you, and much more love to give to you if you are patient with her. Most people are not that patient. Most adults are not that patient. Most students are not that patient. Most middle-schoolers are not that patient. A few are, but most are not.

"One of Annah’s greatest strengths is her sociability. Her genuine love for people and her ability to celebrate the smallest accomplishment of yours with a high five."

One of Annah’s greatest strengths is her sociability. Her genuine love for people and her ability to celebrate the smallest accomplishment of yours with a high five. Something as simple as having a birthday in the same month as her birthday will be met with an enthusiastic “Awesome!”.

One of Annah’s biggest barriers to establishing meaningful relationships – where she can give and receive love, be accepted by her peers, and multiply the love for life that she has within her, is the intelligibility of her speech, or, more precisely, the lack of intelligibility of her speech.

"The better her communication skills, the stronger her relationships. The stronger her relationships, the more the world gets to receive her unbridled joy and love of life."

Our insurance company doesn’t cover any speech therapy because speech therapy is provided by the school. However, when you get to middle school, speech therapy is greatly reduced compared to elementary. We believe the next few years are Annah’s window of opportunity to improve her communication skills for the rest of her life. The better her communication skills, the stronger her relationships. The stronger her relationships, the more the world gets to receive her unbridled joy and love of life. The world needs what Annah has to offer….but the world won’t receive it to its’ fullest measure if people walk away from her too quickly because they can’t understand what she is saying.

Annah’s time at The Center has not only allowed our family to be optimistic that Annah, with clearer speech, could not only have better relationships with her peers, but also creates the possibility that because of a friendship with Annah – Annah’s peers would become better people.

We believe, that with the speech therapy Annah has received, that it’s possible that in the next four years, there will be high school students who will look back on their life and be able to say, “one of my signature stories is my friendship with Annah Huisman.” – and that will, in part, be due to the time and dedication from the therapists at The Center for Childhood Development.

On behalf of Annah Huisman’s family, we thank you for your time and commitment to our daughter. Thank you for changing her life and changing the world.

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