I sat down with Evan and Corrie individually.
I asked Evan, "Have you heard us talking about something called Down syndrome?"
"Do you know what it is?"
"Well, let's talk about how babies are made in a mommy. Babies grow from part of mommy and part of daddy. Each little cell has chromosomes that help the baby's body know what to do and how to grow. Usually babies receive 23 chromosomes from mommy and 23 chromosomes from daddy. How many is that?"
"Down syndrome means that Ben got one extra chromosome, so he has ..."
"Right. That one extra chromosome means that things are a little confused in Ben's body. He will learn to do all sorts of things, but it's just going to take him longer. He'll be able to crawl and walk and run and jump - just like you and Corrie - but he's going to have to work hard to learn how to do those things. So we need to help him! You can be one of Ben's coaches as he grows."
Evan has embraced Ben - and being Ben's helper - enthusiastically! If Evan is home when Ben is having therapy, Evan likes to sit in on the session and tell the therapist all the things that Ben can do. He learns the exercises and practices with Ben.
My conversation with Corrie was similar, but I left out all the information about chromosomes. She just knows that Ben needs to work hard to learn things - and it will take some time. Corrie has a rougher time with the therapists than Evan. I try to schedule therapy when Corrie's at preschool, so she doesn't feel like Ben gets all sort of extra, special attention. Or I save fun activities for her to do when the therapists are here - like playing on pbskids.org. Corrie likes to participate in therapy, too, but she gets bored.
I think Corrie is more aware than Evan that Ben is not keeping up with other kids his age. She is more attuned to people, so she notices more. Evan is kind of oblivious. As the kids get older, I'm sure we will have many more conversations about Down syndrome.
As it is, I hope that the kids just think of Ben as their little brother - who might need some extra help but will still be able to do things. I want them to see Ben as more alike than different. And they do. I also hope that being Ben's siblings will help them grow in compassion and patience. I see life a little differently now that Ben is here, and I imagine that Evan and Corrie will, too.
Before I wrote this post, I thought I'd check with the kids to see what they could tell me about Down syndrome. I did not do any coaching or prepping, I just grabbed Evan one day after school. Here's what he had to say:
I asked Corrie, too, but she preferred that I take a video of her dancing rather than talking. I might post that one a different day. :)