Client Success Story: Growing and Learning with Down Syndrome

March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day. Our BridgingApps Digital Learning Specialist, Tara Rocha, shares the story of one client’s journey.

We first met Sarah Brhlik at Reese Technical Center (Fort Bend ISD), in an 18+ transition program taught by Rochelle Fowkes. Sarah already had a history of exploring various interests in sports, dance and music, volunteer work, and an office internship at GiGi’s Playhouse. She graduated from Reese in 2022, and today she is a thriving 24-year-old, working hard to meet her goals in life.

Her current activities include:

  • Equine therapy. For nine years now, Sarah has been a rider—and for the last two years, also a volunteer—at Reining Strength in Richmond, TX. She was interviewed for their 10-year-anniversary video.
  • Customer-service employment. Reese’s career program helped Sarah find her current job at H-E-B, where she works and trains in various departments (grocery bagging, bakery, curbside departments). Her favorites are curbside service and the floral department.
  • Continuing education. Sarah recently completed BridgingApps’ Digital Literacy Training program through the Comcast NBCUniversal grant. She excelled in both face-to-face classes and personal homework, completing the Career Search Skills module along with the course’s four primary modules. Sarah was excited to learn about computer basics, the internet, email, social media, digital footprints, and how digital skills will help her in future employment. One of her goals is to work in an office someday.

The Family Perspective

Sarah has been very fortunate to have caring adults in her life, encouraging her to achieve and be well-rounded. Her mother, Blanka Brhlik, comments:

“The road has often been hard for Sarah: getting the correct modifications for her education was difficult. I found that when I sat down with her and modified the curriculum using easier-to-understand language, she was able to understand concepts much better. Invaluable, even though time consuming, was using ‘old fashioned’ repetition to improve her learning and recall. She still struggles with writing and spelling of ‘long’ words, but speech-to-text technology is helping her to overcome this hurdle because she is a much more proficient reader. Sarah is very social and loves to communicate with everybody about everything.

“She has really enjoyed learning new computer skills. I especially appreciated the sections about digital footprint and email because it made her aware of the need for safety on the internet. She manages her bank account on her phone and uses emails and texts to communicate with various institutions and people. She uses an app by her employer and, of course, she shops online, as well. She rides Fort Bend Transit to work, scheduling her own trips through Fort Bend Transit Demand Response, and she texts us when she’s on her way home. As her mother, I grew up in Eastern Europe, and I didn’t work with computers until I was 23 years old. I’m amazed now at how parents did it before texting helped families stay in touch!

“The most important thing I’ve learned about raising a child with special needs: don’t trust anyone but yourself on final decisions. No expert can know your child like you do. Their advice is very helpful, but you still need to try different things and see what works.”

Bridging the Gap

For Sarah and other young adults with Down syndrome, it’s important to have someone (preferably several someones) who:

  • Gives of their time and attention
  • Knows that intellectual disability needn’t keep anyone from achieving
  • Is patient with trial-and-error learning
  • Knows when to help, when to push a bit, and when to stand back

Our work at BridgingApps includes all of this, and emphasizes giving kids the power to use tools and be independent. Sarah and her mother are so grateful that they have been able to participate, and learn essential skills such as:

  • Communicating digitally
  • Working remotely
  • Applying for jobs online
  • Using banking and financial apps
  • Recognizing and avoiding the “dark side” of the digital world: fake emails, fake social-media accounts, false information, and the like

“Technology is a vital life skill, even a survival skill, for everyone—regardless of ability or disability,” says Blanka in regard to the family’s digital-training experience. Kudos to Sarah Brhlik as an example of eager learning, hard work, and determination to achieve all she can!

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