Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sarah Middlebrook, 9

Sarah Middlebrook, 9, showed off a container full of things beginning with the letter O during class Monday. Teacher Jennifer Nerren is seen in the background.
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PROFILE: Sarah Middlebrook, 9

March 23, 2009 - 9:26 PM
Sarah Middlebrook doesn't speak much. But those who know her say that when Sarah's in the room, her actions and personality speak for themselves.
Sarah has Down syndrome. Although the condition causes cognitive delays, and although Sarah has had to endure multiple abdominal surgeries since she was born nine years ago, the third-grader at Odyssey Elementary is "always the cheerful helper," says Jennifer Nerren, a teacher in the Severe Needs room at Odyssey.
"Sarah is a dedicated and hard worker at school," writes Nerren in her nomination of Sarah as a Great Kid. "She puts forth a lot of effort and enjoys spending time with her teachers. Sarah has made a lot of gains academically this year and has made us very proud!"
Nerren and Sarah's mother, Michelle Middlebrook, describe Sarah as accepting and kind.
"She is very nonjudgmental," Sarah's mom says. "I mean she's completely innocent; she is incapable of telling a lie or being deceptive."
Sarah seems to have a talent for teaching her fellow students and helping them out any way she can, Nerren says. She also loves to help out with housework at home, her mom says.
"She's loving and tenderhearted and innocent, and she'll be that way her whole life," Middlebrook says.
To be sure, raising a child with Down syndrome poses unique challenges.
"She just has to be watched 24 hours a day," her mom explains.
Middlebrook says the most difficult part of raising a child with Down syndrome is communicating. "She doesn't really speak very much, and she does minimal signing."
Everyone in the family knows some sign language. And Sarah has an electronic communication device, which Middlebrook describes as a sort of minicomputer with pictures of, say, food, that Sarah can push to let others know what she wants to eat. While Middlebrook says the device helps, there's no surefire way of knowing exactly what's on Sarah's mind all the time.
But Sarah finds other ways to communicate.
There's a student in her class who is in a wheelchair and has many medical needs, Nerren, Sarah's teacher, explains.
"Sarah has no hesitation sitting by her, talking to her, holding her hand, and being a true friend to the other little girl," Nerren says.
Many children don't show Sarah the same openness and kindness that she shows others, her mom says, but there are exceptions.
"There's one neighborhood brother and sister that live across the street that always help Sarah and try to play with her," Middlebrook says, "when other kids don't even acknowledge that she's in the room really."
Down syndrome occurs when a person has three copies of the 21st chromosome, according to the National Down Syndrome Society. Most people have two copies. The extra genetic material changes development and causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome such as small stature, an upward slant in the eyes and low muscle tone, according to NDSS.
Sarah's mom describes an ability she says Sarah seems to possess that most people don't: to tap into "the spiritual realm."
"When she was, I think, about 4 or 5, we were at our old house, and she kept looking out the window smiling and waving, and we're like, ‘What do you see, what do you see?'" Middlebrook says. "She just kept looking up and said, ‘Bye.' We just think she saw her angel or something."
"We've seen other times that she can see things that we can't see," Sarah's mom continued. "She'll walk into a room, a grocery store, wherever we're at, and we know, depending on her countenance, whether things are going to be good or bad. She can really see things, I think, in the spiritual realm."
Sarah and her family attend New Life Church, where a signer conveys worship songs in sign language, and Sarah signs along, her mom says.
And Sarah clearly earns high marks with her teacher. "She is truly a special child and a gift to my classroom," Nerren says.
Hobbies going to the park, listening to music, worshipping at church, coloring
Favorite toy Baby, her doll that she takes everywhere."We pray as a family before my husband (Tim Middlebrook) leaves for work, and she has my husband hold one hand of the baby, and she'll hold the other," Sarah's mom says.
Siblings Two brothers; one sister

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