Most of the time, the definition of “purpose” as an encouragement or intention to do or not to do anything falls short of describing what a person can set out to do and achieve given time, effort, and opportunity. A person’s purpose is greater than just drawing a straight line and following the road. Life’s journey is never without its ups and downs or detours. Joshua is the best at understanding what the word “purpose” means and is the best at getting things done.
Joshua D. Lopez is a special teenager who lives in the Inland Empire. He is a member of a family that is trilingual in English, Spanish and American Sign Language (ASL) and that values tradition and culture as its main source of connection. Joshua shows us through his gentleness and ingenuity the strength and mental determination that he possesses at his young age, enabling him to get through challenging or downright unfavorable situations that come his way. In an intimate conversation with his parents, Claudia Navarro and Edgar Navarro told us that Joshua has been a client of the Inland Regional Center (IRC) since birth. When he was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, which the Centers for Disease Control estimates affects one in 772 newborns, his early years suggested a different path.
Joshua, who might be a little reserved when meeting new people in person, exudes an uncommon amount of vitality and sincerity. Protected by his mother Claudia, he extends a quick “hello” and lets his family speak for him, but not before affirming with his actions that every step and every accomplishment is just another milestone on the path to success he has set for himself.
According to Claudia, they decided to provide Joshua with every opportunity to have a more inclusive life from the minute he was born. They sought to connect him with IRC, which she feels has given him opportunities that would otherwise be more challenging to attain and for which she is grateful. The entire family has continuously sought inclusion in all facets of daily life. They have occasionally encountered inclusion barriers such as getting turned down for extracurricular athletic or artistic opportunities. According to Claudia, the staff in charge explained that they weren’t ready or didn’t have the staff to give him the attention he required to participate. These difficulties have not stopped the family’s determination to continue supporting him, and even less so Joshua’s determination to pursue new goals.
But Joshua’s story would be incomplete if we were to leave out the story of his sister Emily B. Lopez. Every story typically starts with the inspiration we find in others, and in Joshua’s case, his story begins with his entire family. However, Emily seems to have an impact that perhaps she has not realized. She is Joshua’s immediate inspiration the mirror in which he occasionally perceives himself to know that he can attempt something similar and be successful. When Emily talks about her brother, her face lights up with pride, demonstrating how ready she is to continue supporting him.
Claudia confirms that her son has been involved in a multitude of activities since he was very young, from participating in folkloric dance groups that he practiced alongside his sister for several years, to athletics, to the present being part of the Poly High School cheerleading squad. “Joshua has always been very active. For example, on several occasions when we would take his sister to a dance class, we would find that Joshua was practicing the steps and learning the routines easily.” Claudia adds that from then on, they would ask if Joshua could participate and the answer was always positive, although occasionally a few “noes” appeared that didn’t stop him from continuing his track.
Edgar and Claudia state that Joshua tried out for the Poly High School mascot in 2020, but the restriction for in-person activities due to the pandemic made this task even more challenging. Edgar tells us that they helped Joshua in learning the routines by practicing with him daily. In addition to encouraging him, they have also taught him to accept failure and setbacks by teaching him how to do so. Despite obstacles, he succeeded in his quest and today he represents Poly High School as a mascot in competitions and sports activities. When asked what advice he could share with other parents about educating their children with Down syndrome, Edgar says “you have to be patient with them as with any other child; you have to constantly guide and educate them.”
When asked about activities he prefers individually or as a family, Joshua enthusiastically mentions the Day of the Dead festival, an activity that they used to do frequently and of which he has happy recollections. However, there are a couple of activities the family honor with great enthusiasm, and that is sharing dinner daily, talking, cleaning activities afterward, and even more, the end-of-the-year Christmas parties. Joshua is perhaps the one who is most looking forward to these holidays because he gets to spend time with his extended family and take part in the festivities.
Joshua stays active, participating in as many activities as his schedule will allow. He partakes in track and field and cheers for the Poly High School Pep Squad and cheerleaders. Joshua’s parents note that one of his most recent activities is being a part of the Pep Squad, and they are all very proud of him. Maintaining communication with Joshua during football games in which he participates is difficult because he occasionally needs direction with dance routines. For this, his parents frequently sit in the stands in front of the field and speak to Joshua in ASL. This has been very helpful in maintaining effective communication, which would be impossible to do with the noise and distance in between.
His mother, Claudia, mentions that Joshua is a great kid. When asked about her motivation for sharing Joshua’s story, with great emotion and tears present, she tells us that children with Down Syndrome can be fully integrated into most activities and they can learn and participate just like anyone else. There are many services available to help them be successful and we are very grateful to IRC. Every year when it is Joshua’s annual assessment, the workers are eager to learn from his previous year’s accomplishments. We want people to be aware that services and support are available. She also mentioned that “it’s important for the family to be supportive as a whole to be successful.”
Recently, Joshua and Emily were nominated for king and queen of Poly High School’s annual homecoming celebration. Edgar and Claudia mention that a friend of Joshua’s was also nominated. His parents’ preparation for the event included not only understanding how to get around and participate in the awards ceremony but also knowing how to accept whatever the outcome was and how to support his friend if he was the winner.
Part of the celebrations leading up to the Homecoming event is a parade that takes place annually on Central Avenue in Riverside, California, around Poly High School and, although on a smaller scale, with a resemblance to the Rose Parade. Both Emily and Joshua participated in their formal outfits and aboard a red Mustang. After the parade, they attended the awards ceremony. When we interviewed the family in early October the event had not yet occurred, however, by the time we completed the story, their mother Claudia contacted us to share that Joshua had been crowned king on October 8, 2022, and everyone was incredibly proud of his achievements.
Every story is different and there is always a new lesson learned when we share moments with families and our clients. Some lessons stand out more than others, however, one thing in common is perhaps the participation and support of the people immediately around our clients. At IRC we respect the client’s decision to have the power to decide what is best for them, to be included in the decision-making process, and to achieve their independence. More so, it makes us happy to know that they have a support group that encourages them and provides them with the peace of mind and comfort to achieve greater success in their lives in the long term.
Joshua is an example that, with coordinated services, the necessary circle of support, and the love and encouragement of those around you, you can thrive and live a fulfilling life under the conditions you set for yourself. If it is true that each person has a limit, Joshua’s limit exists only in his heart and will to succeed. Borrowing Paulo Coelho’s words “when you really want something, the whole universe conspires in helping you to achieve it,” the universe will keep conspiring for Joshua to continue his rise to infinity.
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