Like any other high school girl, Chaislyn Metzler, 18 and a varsity cheerleader at Valley High School, likes to hang out with her friends, dreams of driving her own car, blushes over her boyfriend and is getting excited about prom. She is finishing up her junior year at Valley and is already thinking about college or even getting a job.
“I was thinking about working at B-Dubs or for a veterinarian. I like the hospital too. It’s hard to choose,” she explained when thinking about her future.
Unlike your typical teenage girl, however, Chaislyn has Down syndrome and though she has proven that does not stop her from being a normal teenager, she also has to work harder and face limitations she sometimes can not overcome just to be a typical teenager.
Mother Noelle Metzler says that during her pregnancy with Chaislyn there was no indication her daughter had Down syndrome.
“We had no clue,” she explained. “She measured small but other than that it was a normal pregnancy.”
Even after Chaislyn was born, it was not clear. She didn’t have the common features associated with Down syndrome.
The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that Down syndrome is a condition that occurs when a person is born with an extra chromosome and causes developmental and intelectual delays. People with Down syndrome also tend to have a flattened face (specifically the bridge of the nose), almond shaped eyes that slant upwards, a short neck and small hands and feet. They also tend to have specific medical issues including being born with a hole(s) in their hearts.
After giving birth to her daughter, Noelle says the nurses were each looking at Chaislyn’s hands. She did not know at that time, but they were noticing that the creases in her daughter’s hands were straight—another common feature of people with Down syndrome. The family’s pediatrician Dr. Gregory Hudson told the family that there was a 50/50 chance and blood work would be needed to be certain.
“When he asked if I knew what Down syndrome was, I thought I did,” Noelle stated.
However, she soon found out how little she knew. Noelle was a young mom. She was 18 when Chaislyn was born. Now, this new, young mother was being faced with scary information, and there was more to come.
When Dr. Hudson came back to tell Noelle that her daughter’s blood work had determined she did have Down syndrome, he also informed her that Chaislyn had a hole in her heart. This tiny, six pound baby was being sent to Children’s Hospital for surgery.
Noelle was overwhelmed. She did the only thing she knew to do and prayed with her doctor and family. Dr. Hudson left the room to make arrangements for Chaislyn but returned with a confused facial expression that Noelle has never forgotten.
When she saw his face, Noelle remembers saying, “I can’t handle anymore. I don’t want to know.”
Her mother, who had worked for Dr. Hudson was there for support and instantly approached the doctor to see what had changed. Dr. Hudson informed the family that somehow the hole in Chaislyn’s heart was gone. Noelle confirmed that she had seen the hole herself on a monitor. To be safe, Chaislyn was sent to Columbus where it was confirmed that there was no hole in her heart. She has never had heart problems since.
It was this moment that gave Noelle hope. Knowing it wouldn’t be easy, Noelle felt confident that her daughter would be okay and whatever happened they would face together.
“We’re going to do this,” Noelle remembers saying with her mom and Chaislyn’s father Gabe Metzler.
When Chaislyn was an infant, Help Me Grow (an early intervention program that helps in child development) started visiting her at home. Chaislyn also underwent several forms of therapy and progressed very well despite her disability.
In fact, as Chaislyn prepared to graduate preschool at the Carousel Center in Portsmouth, her teachers discussed educational opportunities with Noelle and recommended that she be put in regular classrooms rather than in a multiple disability (MD) class because Chaislyn had only tested learning disabled, which is much less severe.
Noelle remembers thinking, “As a mom, what’s the best decision I can make for her?”
Throughout Chaislyn’s life, Noelle has had to make these kind’s of decisions. Often, she has to consider what she wants for her daughter, what educators want for her daughter and what Chaislyn wants for herself.
Chaislyn started in a MD unit in kindergarten at the age of 7. Soon, her mother felt that this was not best. Chaislyn was not getting the social interaction that she needed.
“How is she going to be okay in the world if you don’t put her in it?” Noelle remembers questioning.
The next year Noelle sent Chaislyn to Valley. Though Noelle says that Valley has not always had the answer, the district has always been willing to work with her to explore the options. At Valley, Chaislyn was in regular classes with an aid. Then, in middle school, Chaislyn started working with Amy Elswic, who is still her aid presently.
When Chaislyn started entering junior high, things changed. She had started developing behavioral problems. The work was took hard, and she would get frustrated and act out. Noelle approached the school and they decided Chaislyn could go to the MD unit half a day for her academics and then spend the other half in regular classes. However, the high school does not have an MD unit. Chaislyn started going to Northwest for that portion of her instruction. After a couple years with this schedule, Chaislyn decided she wasn’t happy. This year, Chaislyn approached her mom saying that she wanted to go to her school and be with her friends. She is now in regular classes and doing well.
Valley has not only worked with Noelle and Chaislyn in achieving academic goals but also in helping Chaislyn achieve her own personal goals. In elementary school, Chaislyn had tried to join in sports and extracurricular activities. She had attempted to play soccer, but that did not work out. Then, a friend asked her if she was going to sign up for cheerleading. Noelle said she was not sure that Chaislyn could even be a cheerleader. As a pee wee cheerleader, Chaislyn would not have to try out, which gave her the opportunity to try. Everyone soon learned that Chaislyn could cheer and loved doing so. She continued to cheer all through pee wee, but soon found out that varsity would be a little different.
Like any other teenager, Chaislyn has experienced disappointment. As a freshman in high school, Chaislyn was determined to continue doing what she loved. Noelle approached the varsity cheerleading adviser to discuss the options. However, Valley had never experienced this kind of situation before, and the cheerleading adviser had no idea how to go about it. She explained that Chaislyn would have to try out. She would have to learn a cheer, dance and sideline just like other girls trying out. And, like the other girls, she would have to learn it in one day. That was more than Chaislyn could handle.
“She could do it. She can do it, but she needs more time,” her mother commented.
That year, Chaislyn did not make the team. She was cut and was devastated. Still, Noelle says she wouldn’t change it. Disappointment is a part of life and an important experience for this young girl. However, the family did set out to learn from the experience and be more prepared for the following year. Noelle asked the school if there was a way that Chaislyn could still be on the team in a role as manager or some other position but was told no because such positions did not exist. She researched and found a girl with Down syndrome that was cheering for a high school in Texas. Immediately, this mom called to see how they had made this possible. What she was told was that the girl was named an honorary cheerleader and that the school wanted to do it, so they just did. It was really that simple. Noelle set up a meeting with the Valley superintendent, the new cheerleading adviser (starting Chaislyn’s sophomore year) and athletic director.
“Valley had never heard of it, never done this, but were willing to listen and try,” Noelle stated.
Though they could put Chaislyn on the team as an honorary member, they struggled to determine what her role would be. Ultimately, they decided that Chaislyn would still have to try out but was given more time. Since she would be an honorary cheerleader, she was in an added role. Thus, no girl would be cut from the squad so that Chaislyn could be on it. They discussed only having Chaislyn cheer at home games as well as other options, but the new adviser Crystal Webb decided Chaislyn could best determine what she was capable of.
“She did it all,” Noelle stated.
Chaislyn was able to learn all the routines. She could keep up with all games and practices. She was able to do what every other cheerleader was doing, so she was expected to do so.
“They don’t treat her any different. She is part of the squad and expected to do what the squad is expected to do,” Noelle explained.
It also helps that everyone is supportive and happy to have her.
“Everyone is great with having her on there,” Noelle said before adding that the whole school loves Chaislyn.
She has plenty of friends that take care of her and sit with her at lunch. Though she has felt left out at times or sat by herself, it is not something that has ever bothered her and is something all kids have faced. Most often, her peers are happy to include her.
Chaislyn cheers during both football and basketball season. Though she admits that she gets tired and frustrated sometimes, she loves to cheer. Chaislyn has either a practice or a game nearly everyday. With that kind of schedule, getting tired sometimes is normal.
“My favorite part is just being on the team,” Chaislyn said.
Her second favorite part is dancing.
“She has always liked to perform and entertain others,” her mom explained.
Though some things have been difficult for Chaislyn, Noelle feels her daughter has been very fortunate.
“Things most people dream of doing in high school, she got to do,” Noelle commented.
In addition to cheering, Chaislyn is manager of the volleyball team, sings the National Anthem at all home games, was homecoming attendant when she was a freshman and plans to run again as a senior.
“I want to be a queen,” Chaislyn commented with enthusiasm.
Sure, there will be some things Chaislyn can’t do. She badly wants to drive. Though her dad has taken her for driving lessons, actually driving is not something Chaislyn is going to be able to do.
Noelle explained that they just recently talked to Chaislyn about having Down syndrome.
“She knows she struggles. She want to drive because all of her friends do. She understands that she’s not doing those things that others do… I think she understands that some things are harder for her,” Noelle stated.
The family attends Down syndrome conventions and is always exploring the possibilities for their daughter. Through these conventions, Noelle has also noticed that Chaislyn relates more to typical kids than other people with disabilities.
“When I see her with kids with disabilities, I see her looking at them like typical kids look at her. She’s not mean but notices the difference, tries to understand and pulls away a bit,” Noelle explained.
Growing up in a traditional school setting with traditional students had helped Chaislyn to feel like any other kid.
“She just feels like one of them,” her mom commented.
This has not only been good for Chaislyn but also those around her who have all grown with her.
She is different in other ways as well. When Chaislyn turned 18, she could not go into adulthood as others would. Instead, she had to go through the process of her mom becoming her guardian. She also wants to go to college, which may not be a possibility. However, Chaislyn has always been the one to determine what she was capable of accomplishing.
“It’s been a fun, exhausting, scary ride,” her mom stated.
The young girl has a boyfriend named Roy and is preparing for prom. Though she still has a year and half, Chaislyn is also going through all the emotions of getting ready to graduate high school.
“For my graduation, we’re going on a cruise,” Chaislyn commented.
Though she is excited to go to the Bahamas, she is also sad about graduating.
“I’m going to miss my friends,” she said, a sentiment shared by many of her classmates.
Though Chaislyn has her own struggles that are unique to her, she pushes through with the support of her family, never allowing difficulties to be impossibilities.