Honoré was born with Down syndrome. His mother, Virginie, was filled with worry. “I was scared and overwhelmed,” she said, remembering those first few months of her son’s life. “I felt alone.” Originally from Senegal, Virginie and her three sons were now living in Wisconsin and had no family in this U.S. Virginie also carried with her cultural stigmas that she knew were outdated, but still struggled to overcome. “In Africa, they would think it was something I had done or a punishment of some kind,” she said. “I felt ashamed.”
Virginie wanted her son to be as successful and live independently someday, but she didn’t know what to do or where to go. She reached out to the Down Syndrome Association of Milwaukee and spoke to another mom who told her Honoré may not meet milestones as fast as his peers, but one day she will see that he can do anything he dreams of. “Since that day I’ve felt so good,” said Virginie, “I believed her.”
Searching for the best care for Honoré, Virginie heard time and again that no childcare would enroll him given his disability. As a Cargill employee in Milwaukee, she was able to apply for a position in Minnetonka so Honoré could get the support he needed. Her Hennepin County social worker referred her to St. David’s Center. “I called the receptionist and she transferred my call to Jana,” St. David’s Center’s Early Childhood Education Care Coordinator. “After I talked to Jana, I thought, ‘This is an angel that God sent my way,’ because she answered all of my questions.” Jana helped Virginie understand the services Honoré could receive and helped her access funding to pay for part of his care.
“When I first met Virginie I could tell she was an incredible mama bear,” remembered Jana. “She was determined to figure out how to put all the resources together, what to do and how to do it fast enough.” They worked together to get Honoré enrolled in occupational and speech therapy at St. David’s Center, and Jana coordinated Honoré’s schedule with school district services. His occupational therapist, Carrie, met with Virginie to create a care plan that reflected her goals for her son.
Like many children with Down Syndrome, Honoré has low muscle tone and weakness throughout his body that affects his ability to run, jump and play like his peers. He also has sensory processing differences that require more input for him to register with his eyes, ears, and body. As a result, Honoré struggled to play with other children on the playground. “He really just stood there and didn’t know what to do,” Carrie remembered. “Part of that was his difficulty with climbing and balancing, and part was just not knowing he could interact with other kids or explore.”
Virginie was also concerned about Honoré’s speech and self-care skills like dressing and drooling. Honoré’s occupational therapists, speech therapists and teaching team worked together towards achieving his goals in each environment. “Occupational therapy compliments his speech therapy because the movement of our activities really gives meaning to his speech,” said Carrie. “I model language for him and label items in the room, and now I’m starting to see him imitate me or spontaneously say some of those things.”
Honoré’s paraprofessional also supported his developmental goals in the classroom. “Many times, his paraprofessional comes with him to therapy which is a great opportunity for me to coach them on things he can do in the classroom that are also therapeutic,” she explains. “I show them ways to strengthen the muscles in the mouth and kind of wake them up, which can impact his speech and ability to keep saliva in his mouth.”
The results have been incredible. “Now that he’s gotten used to his social group and therapies are in place, he’s like a different child,” said Jana. “His language has blossomed into words and context and he is motivated by his peers.” Mom can see it too. “He’s able to concentrate, sit in group time, and use a spoon,” she said. “He has lots of friends who line up to hug him and say, ‘Bye-bye!’ and he will turn around and say, ‘Bye-bye!’ I can see the joy on his face. He’s so happy to be here.”
Honoré has made a lasting impression on every life he has touched at St. David’s Center. “My hope is that Honoré’s zest and love for life will continue in his educational settings and that he will be surrounded by people that can celebrate who he is,” said Jana. “And that Virginie can take pride in what an awesome mom she is for him.” Both Virginie and Honoré have come a long way since those first uncertain days when she reached out for help. “I wish I could call that other mom now, even though he’s just three years old,” she said. “He’s a blessing. Because of Honoré, I know what love is.”