She and her mom, Valerie, also like cooking together. Valerie got it into her head to do a video cooking series. She posted a note on Facebook asking whether anyone had a kitchen with an island they could use; yes, someone had a gorgeous one. A videographer friend from church taped the videos.
Last spring, they kicked off Sarah's Great Day!, which you can see on YouTube. Sarah's involved with Noble of Indiana, a non-profit that seeks to enhance life for people with disabilities and their families. They've been so impressed with Sarah's Great Day!, they've become a show sponsor. Here's Sarah with a friend, making Choco-Peanut Squares.
I asked Valerie how the videos have been beneficial to Sarah. "Sarah and I started cooking together because she was going through a tough time in middle school," she told me. "She hated school. Hated having Down syndrome. Hated being different. She shut down and hid in the basement and cut herself off from everyone. So in seventh grade, I removed her from all special ed courses and only put her in inclusion classes and homeschooled her half days. I used cooking to help teach her. She really liked it. One day I thought, Why not let others see the benefits of cooking and how you can incorporate therapy, communication and friendship?
At first I saw no change in Sarah—I think she did it for me. The other weekend, though, we did a big event. Sarah was proud of herself. She was talking and shaking hands with people. Handing out her business cards. I wasn't even next to her while she did this. I was in the back and when I turned around there was this crowd of people around her. It's like she figured out that she really was doing something great. The videos have given her a sense of purpose. She's a typical teenager, shy and self-conscious, and I do think the videos have helped her confidence levels around others. I pay her, so she is learning that when you work hard, you get paid. I think that she also likes that her friends like to watch...and want to be on the show!"
Then I asked Valerie what she thought the videos tell world about people with Down syndrome. "I think they see that people with disabilities are just normal people," she answered. "We don't try to make Sarah look more high-functioning than she is. I think we are showing an accurate portrayal of what it is like to have someone in your family that has a disability. We laugh, we lean how to decipher speech, we help each other but more than anything, we love—deeply. I think the videos dispel the biggest lie out there lie out there about having a child with a disability, as well as every parent's biggest fear: that having a child with a disability is a horrible thing and that your life will be ruined. The fact is, we are happy. Sarah is happy."
A-men. I got a chance to ask Sarah some questions. Here's what she had to say:
"It is fun. It's really hard to make. And I really like cheesecake."
What are your favorite foods to cook and why?
"I like to cook noodles and sauce and I like to make pizza and that's it. Why? Because I have lots to make."
Is there any part of cooking you do not like?
"I don't really like making pancakes because it's got a lot of ingredients."
Has anything funny happened while you were making the videos?
"It's so funny, I eat the chicken wing and dipping it in the sauce. It's hot...I'm really hot." [She's referring to this episode.]
When you're an adult, would you like a job cooking?
"I grow up and be a nurse. I don't want to be a cook. It's totally not fair."
What do you think your videos tell people about who you are?
"To be nice. And you need to let people help you. And you are trying to be a friend."
Photos: Christie Turnball