How Jon Learned to Drive
Feb 18, 2013 by

Shortly after he was born the nurses brought him to my room so we could bond. That had not happened with my other two babies, but I kept thinking times have changed. My husband and I were not told till the next morning that we had a boy with Down syndrome and the ob-gyn doctor was trying to be very positive telling us quote “if you had to have a down’s child you had a good one” due to his muscle tone not being floppy and no medical problems. The pediatrician, however, was a different story. He advised us to take him home, sit him in the corner and give him a paper sack to play with, as he wouldn’t want toys to play with. My husband and I often laugh these days, as the doctor was right. Our son does play with paper sacks…and plastic. You see he is a courtesy clerk for Safeway and bags groceries. But I am getting ahead of my story.

Jon started programs to help him at the age of 8 weeks, and has been in school ever since. We had to teach him everything other babies take for granted. But he learned and my husband and I never thought of him as having a disability and expected him to do everything our other children had done. He grew and started a regular kindergarten class when he was 6 years of age. As he continued he would have P.E., art, homeroom in a regular classroom and all his math, reading, writing he was pulled out and went to a special class with a special ed teacher. By the time he got to high school he was so well known in the school system that he was given the freedom to go from class to class by himself, even with having a disability, without a buddy to escort him. By the 11th grade he was taught to take the city bus by himself and that opened up a whole new world of freedom to him. He now attends college on his own taking such classes such as college skills, swimming, karate (he is a brown belt), cooking class, computer class, golf, tennis, and this fall he is going to take archery. He is still learning every year and his skills continue to grow.

Jon started out helping his older brother in a lawn business being a gofer for his brother and getting paid for it. He quickly learned that he could save his money and then go to the movies, or buy a soda. When his brother went on to college and gave up the lawn business, Jon too was out of a job. His dad and him went to Safeway and filled out an application and Jon got hired, yes, even with his disability! His father acted as his job coach for about 3 weeks after which Safeway said he is doing just fine and we won’t need you to aid him anymore. That was 7 years ago. He is in the union making union wages with insurance, three weeks vacation and all of the benefits of the union. In the 7 years he has been there he has only been late 1 time and absent due to illness 2 days. He takes his job seriously and makes sure he knows his schedule for the coming week and that he gets up on time and is clean and neat when he leaves for work. Working in the public has given him a world of experiences…some good and some not so good but he has handled each one. This summer he wanted to give back to the community so he decided to volunteer at the Food Bank two days a week.

Jon has wanted to do everything his older brother has done and his biggest disappointment was turning 16 and not being able to drive a car. But Jon overcame that also and with the help of Becoming Independent and North Bay Regional Center in 2004 he got his California driver’s license. He has his own car and drives not only to college but also to work and anyplace else he might want to go in the area. He is a very good driver. We have always taught Jon to do things the right way the first time as he doesn’t forget and will do it the same way each time thereafter.

The entire family is very proud of Jon’s achievements. He continues to amaze us and we look forward to the future with great happiness. He has truly been a blessing.

Here is a picture of Jon with his new car. He is volunteering at the Petaluma Valley Hospital this summer. He is what we use to call Candy Stripers in my day. He goes and visits the patients, takes their requests for the next days meals, delivers flowers and in general helps out where needed. Last week he was asked to play cards with one of the elderly patients to keep her company. Between his job at Safeway and volunteering he is one busy young man.

But HOW did he learn how to drive?

When he was 20 we heard of a lady at the organization called Becoming Independent who would be willing to do the handbook for Jon. Her only criteria was that he be able to read which he could do. So for the next 2 1/2 years she worked with him 1 day a week for an hour. They took the driving manual one page at a time and read it and worked on it till he understood what the rules of the road were. After 2 1/2 years she called us and said that Jon was ready to take the written exam for a permit. She thought it would be better for him to take the exam orally. However Jon did not do good on that as he is visual and not audio. He was very frustrated trying to understand how they wanted him to answer the questions. We finally said why don’t you give Jon the paper test like everyone else and lets see what he can do. Given that he passed missing only one question.

With permit in hand we contacted our North Bay Regional Center and they agreed to fund the behind the wheel driving lessons. The driving instructor told us that normally it takes only 3 lessons before she feels the student is ready for the test, but with Jon it took 9 lessons and 5 months. Now it was time to go to DMV for his test. His dad took him and later told me that he left the building at the same time as another young man (non DS) that was taking his test. 15 minutes later the other young man came back but no Jon.

He was gone for over 40 minutes and my husband was getting very worried. When the inspector came back he told my husband that the reason they were gone so long was that he really put Jon through his paces. He had him drive through construction zones, school, residential, hospital, left turns, right turns, railroad tracks and everything he could think of and Jon passed only missing one item on the test. He got his license and there are no restrictions on it. He drives the freeways, 2 lane country roads, in rain, fog, in town etc.

Of all our children he is the best driver. Kids think after a while that they can up the speed limit and take a few chances but Jon has never had a ticket or accident. Not that it couldn’t happen but like I said we found that if we teach Jon the correct way the first time he will do it like that each time. He has even corrected my driving on occasion. Parents of kids with Down syndrome pictures really don’t feel comfortable letting their kids go in the car with Jon and I understand that but lately his girlfriend of 4 years has been allowed to go with him to the movies instead of her parents driving them. The first time it happened she told her parents “It was like a REAL date”.