Our story: James excels because he has a sister with Down syndrome

10348626_10152466975993308_6285620696285943276_nLast month, I wrote of Juliet’s many accomplishments. But James had a very good month as well.

James turned eight in February and is finishing 2nd grade. Through a fortuitous dinner meeting set up by Down Syndrome of Louisville’s Board President two terms prior to mine, I learned of a new program which James thoroughly enjoyed.

The program is called Learning Rx. The program does “brain training,” working on cognitive skills development–things like short term memory, logical reasoning, visualization, and sequencing. We decided to enroll James because of some struggles he was experiencing in school.

I like to say that I have two kids with learning special needs. Juliet’s are more easily appreciated: she has Down syndrome, so she uses educational supports because of having a level of intellectual disability (though in her first round of standardized testing, she actually tested higher than average in reading, and just two points below the district average in math).

James also has special needs when it comes to learning.

James was tested at Learning Rx as intellectually gifted. But, he was having some difficulty in school following directions, putting things in order, and working through challenging work. Through Learning Rx’s assessment it was shown that James was off the charts in comprehension, but that he needed help working through steps to apply that comprehension to answer questions and solve problems.

So, for 12 weeks, twice a week with a “Brain Trainer” at Learning Rx, and twice a week at home with Dad (though that slipped a bit towards the end), James spent 90 minutes working through cognitive skill exercises. He graduated in May, and his results were impressive.

Here’s James’ entry in Learning Rx’s annual competition to recite the presidents in order while being distracted:

Measured against his initial assessment, James made gains in each category. For instance, he measured as reading at the level of a 19-year old. And, while I don’t put much stock in IQ numbers for telling how “smart” a person is, he showed gains there. In the end, the center’s director told James:

You can be whatever you want to be, provided you set your mind to it.

Here’s why I share James’ accomplishments on this blog:

One of the main concerns of expectant mothers when they receive a prenatal test result for Down syndrome is what impact the child will have on their other children. It’s a very real concern: will the child with Down syndrome require more attention, resulting in the other children feeling neglected? Will the sibling with Down syndrome be perceived as a “burden” by the other siblings when the parents pass away? Will the other siblings resent their brother or sister with Down syndrome for the extra attention he or she receives?

To be candid, these remain concerns for James’ mother and I. Fortunately, James and Juliet are very loving siblings, though not without the typical sibling bickering.

But, I have no doubt that James is where he is cognitively because he has a sister with Down syndrome.

You see, Juliet and James are just 19 months apart. As a result of being so close in age, James received the benefit of Juliet’s last 17 months of early intervention therapy, mandated by federal law for her first three years.

Week after week, there was James, right next to his sister, during speech therapy, or occupational therapy, or developmental intervention sessions. Stacking blocks, learning fine motor skills, and mimicking Juliet’s speech exercises.

That sort of early input not only helped Juliet minimize the developmental delay associated with Down syndrome, but it augmented James’ typical cognitive development.

This is a benefit of having a child with Down syndrome that James’ mother and I could not have expected. James equally benefited from early intervention therapy. And, so, when a challenge arose for James, we sought out a supplemental therapy in Learning Rx.

Our story, again, is representative only of itself. I do not mean to suggest this is what can be expected in every family dynamic. But it’s what happened in ours. And, so, it’s a possibility for your own.

More about Learning Rx can be found at this link.


  1. Thank you for this Mark. My daughter, 2.5 years younger than my son with DS, is extraordinary. I call her the little big sister. When people ask me about this question, I (as always) acknowledge the realities. Nico does take more resources and effort than a typical child, and things are often hard. But he also brings things to the family that a typical child wouldn’t, and the relationship that my children have helps each of them thrive in ways I would not have been able to predict.

  2. I have a similar situation with at G&T older sibling and the younger sibling with DS. I have no doubt the older sibling is more kind, caring, empathetic, and smart because he has a brother with DS. I had concerns at the beginning of this journey and wrote about them here:

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