Smiling in the halls and waving to students, junior Danielle Lagerlef embraces her life. Danielle has Down Syndrome, a development disorder with cognitive and physical growth impairment. Danielle’s math models teacher Aimee Ardoin spends an hour with Danielle every day working on math. Danielle is learning how to tell time, count money and relate things to everyday life.
“She has to relearn things, because they will fall away if she doesn’t use them,” Ardoin said. “It is also more challenging to put them in her memory bank. I would describe it as it is easier to forget and harder to learn new things for her. So we just have to do lots of different ways of learning a single thing. It’s like a normal person has to wade in a baby pool that is a foot tall, but she has to wade in water that is up to her shoulders in order to learn something, so it is a lot harder.”
Since Danielle is a junior, she had to get used to new surroundings, but according to Ardoin she has adjusted very well.
“Sometimes change is hard for her to adjust to,” Ardoin said. “Overall she is very comfortable with all the students, and she brings joy to everyone. Socially, she is great. She makes jokes and has a fantastic sense of humor. Whenever she comes to class she is always ready to try and try harder, either at the same thing we did the day before, or sometimes we do new things. She is just a lot of fun.”
Ardoin has a passion to teach, and enjoys spending time with Danielle.
“I just enjoy seeing and helping others enjoy learning,” Ardoin said. “I never want to stop learning myself. I love each individual because they are different, and we are all so valuable. It is fun to see the different ways that people can sparkle. I think what is important to you is the same thing that is important to Danielle on a very human level. We still need approval; we still need the acceptance and the pat on the back, even though our jobs are a little different.”
Ardoin is not the only person proud to know Danielle. Danielle’s mother and father are her supporting team. They take walks every day after school, and make sure she eats healthy.
“With having these children you will work hard, there will be some tears, and there will be times when you wish for the way you thought it would be,” Danielle’s mom Brenda Lagerlef said. “But that is not all there will be. You will also be a recipient of the deepest hugs imaginable, the brightest smiles, love so honest and pure it will take your breath. You will never be the same, and when you look back, you will be glad for the opportunities this difference brought to your life.”
Brenda has raised all of her children equally, and makes sure all of their needs are met.
“The basics of parenting are the same for kids with and without disabilities,” Brenda said. “Parents must know each child’s strengths and weaknesses help them build on those and prepare for their adult life. Danielle struggles academically with math and sometimes becomes sad when she is lonely and wishes she had friends to hang out with. Danielle’s biggest strengths are her love of life, her desire to please and her social skills.”
It was on May 17, 2008 when Danielle encountered another struggle. At 9:30 a.m., a tragedy struck. Brenda left her hair iron on, and the house burned down. Danielle became devastated and fearful. Many of her toys were gone, but her parents were able to save her cheerleading and basketball trophies that she was very proud of.
“My mom picked me up from Carpenter Middle School,” Danielle said. “I was scared that all my toys burned. My brand new stuffed puppy was my favorite is now gone, and I slept with it every night.”
For three weeks after the incident, the family stayed in a hotel, and then moved into a rental duplex. Danielle couldn’t go back to the house after the fire, but watched the house get moved to the contractor. When the new house was rebuilt, Danielle picked out the paint for her room and helped decorate it. She is very content and happy with her new house. Danielle loves people and wants love in return as well.
“What I would like others to know about any person with a difference is that they get lonely, too,” Brenda said. “If you can be their friend, do it. It may be the single most rewarding act of your entire life and the most impactful act in your life.”
Through her academic struggles the effects of the fire, Danielle still stands strong.
“If you really knew me,” Danielle said, “you would know I am awesome.”