When Literacy is Not the Answer

When Literacy is Not the Answer

By February 21, 2016 BlogPost 2 Comments

I’ve been blessed to grow up in a giant Irish family. My mom is one of seven, I’m the oldest of five, and I have upwards of 30 cousins- the word “lonely” rarely comes to mind. One of my cousins, Patrick, is a particularly joyful member of our extended family. He was born with Down Syndrome in addition to other developmental challenges, and yet, up until recently, has grown up like most kids his age. He has participated in soccer, baseball, and swimming, gone to school dances, and loves to play video games in his spare time; on the surface, he is just like any other 17 year old boy. However, with the issue of college looming in the near future, my aunt and uncle have been forced to look at some of Patrick’s differences. Patrick has been in specialized classes throughout his time in the public school system, but due to his disability, there are limitations when it comes to his learning abilities. Our class discussions  have made me think about what literacy means in his and other people who live with Down Syndrome’s lives. He is able to read and write at about a third/fourth grade level, and for him, that is about as good as it’s going to get. Although universities do provide programs for kids like Patrick, my aunt and uncle have decided against sending him to college and have instead enrolled him in a “fifth year” program that aids teens with disabilities in job training and development. For Patrick, literacy, while a great feat, is not necessary or helpful with regards to his future. His jobs will be task-based or rely upon learned labor as opposed to reading and writing. Because of his intellectual and mental limitations, literacy, or lack thereof, does not offer him the opportunities that it would for other people his age. Patrick’s situation makes me wonder how our education system caters to children with Down Syndrome, and just how much of a different role literacy plays in his life.


  • Theresa B Theresa B says:

    Patrick sounds like an amazing individual!

    I wonder how our education system caters to people with a variety of disabilities; do they care if people with disabilities are at the level of their peers? Or is it just a matter of how much each student can gain in their time at school? Should literacy be the most important thing we ask for students to gain? Or are there other ways for students to gain similar amounts of knowledge while gaining skills for a life profession?

    My friend Ryan from high school, for example, is learning to become a welder. Does literacy really factor into his profession? Could he learn what he needs to support his life without needing to be able to read past a third grade level.

  • Ashley says:

    Could you say that Patrick will be literate in his future profession or functionally literate? Is having a specialized skill its own form of literacy? I like viewing things outside of reading and writing as forms of literacy…

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