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Palo Alto fourth-grader with Down syndrome wins self-advocacy award

Teachers say Dashiell Meier creates a 'culture of acceptance and tolerance'

Dashiell Meier might be Palo Alto's most accomplished 10 year old.

The Ohlone Elementary School fourth-grader with Down syndrome has been to Sacramento several times to advocate for Down syndrome awareness. This February, he traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress as a representative of the Silicon Valley Down Syndrome Network. He also participated in the National Down Syndrome Society's annual Buddy Walk in Washington, D.C.

And since first grade, Dashiell has been an advocate, speaking to Palo Alto elementary school classrooms about his experience as a person with disabilities. He explains why he can't run as fast as other kids (common conditions of Down syndrome are weak muscles and joint instability) or what to do if someone can't understand what he's saying, since he has trouble enunciating (just ask him to repeat himself).

Dashiell, an infectiously positive and energetic boy, was this year nominated by two of his teachers for a national self-advocacy honor. The Council For Exceptional Children's "Yes I Can!" Award recognizes children and youth ages 2 to 21 with special needs who demonstrate achievement in one of seven categories: self-advocacy, academics, arts, athletics, school and community activities, technology and transition.

Dashiell has attended Ohlone in inclusion classrooms since kindergarten and starting in first grade, made the decision to be very open about his disability with his classmates. At the suggestion of his teacher, he told his first-grade class about how Down syndrome affects his muscles — mostly making it harder for him to do many things that come easily to other kids his age.

"I can't move my muscles as well; I can't run as fast; I can't write or draw as (well)," he told the Weekly.

And instead of reacting to that negatively, "People should say, 'Nice work; you're really working hard,'" he said.

Dashiell also read aloud from "It's Okay to Be Different," a children's book that promotes acceptance of everything from being adopted or having special needs to eating macaroni and cheese in a bathtub.

That first presentation was such a success that other teachers invited Dashiell to speak to their classrooms. That year, he spoke to some of Ohlone's second/third-grade and fourth/fifth-grade classes. He now always speaks to his own class at the beginning of the year and to others if he's asked. Now that he's older, his mother said that he'll sometimes talk "in a very simple way" about how he and others with Down syndrome have extra chromosomes — 47 instead of the usual 46.

"It helps them know about me and what it's like to have Down syndrome," Dashiell said.

Dashiell's mother, Kristin, said hearing him talk about having difficulty writing or speaking also helps other students who might not have disabilities but face similar academic challenges.

Ohlone Resource Specialist Renee Alloy and Language Pathologist Cynthia Ehrhorn, who have both worked with Dashiell for several years and are impressed by his enthusiastic spirit, nominated him for the self-advocacy award.

"He just acts as self-advocate every day by the way that he is at school," Ehrhorn said. "He doesn't let obstacles get in his way. He has this 'I can do everything everyone else can do' attitude."

"He knows how to share his condition and be very proud about it," Alloy said.

Dashiell's story also illustrates the benefits of inclusion classrooms for all students.

"What I've noticed has changed is social awareness of other conditions and children interacting where normally they would have been isolated," she said, mentioning that Dashiell has participated in plays and other school events. "When he tells others how this has impacted him, I see them walking around on the playground arm in arm, arm over shoulder, playing games ... just being more accepting of a variety of differences that there are in our human culture. What was really nice for me to see was that having this mainstream approach was really better for all kids."

And, Ehrhorn said, Dashiell's efforts have helped to create a more accepting culture at Ohlone.

"I think it really shows not just kids in his class but kids at the school that we're all different, and just because you're different or you do something differently, it doesn't mean that's any less than how anyone else would do something," she said. "It's created a culture of acceptance and tolerance for differences, which I think is really neat."

At the school board's Oct. 14 meeting, Superintendent Max McGee presented a grinning Dashiell, wearing a suit and tie, with a plaque commemorating the award, telling Dashiell that he serves as an example "for all of us."

"Perhaps the most important aspect of his presentations, beyond the wonderful information that he gives, is a message of tolerance, equality and understanding," McGee said. "He reminds us we are all different, but no one is less than one another."

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5 people like this
Posted by Sally Flaschner
a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2014 at 5:20 am

I am Dashiell's grandmother and very proud of him.

4 people like this
Posted by A
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 24, 2014 at 10:55 am

I'm proud of him, too, and I don't even know him. He 's not just advicating for himself, but for a healthy emotional environment in the school, which is an amazing thing in a 10-year-old, regardless of disability.

Like this comment
Posted by Abilities United
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 24, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Congratulations Dashiell, we are very proud of you but we're not surprised you have accomplished so much!

Like this comment
Posted by Gari Merendino
a resident of Woodside
on Oct 24, 2014 at 1:29 pm

We all think the world of Dashiell here at NCEFT. Thanks for making every Friday a special day.

Like this comment
Posted by Astrid Arnaud
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Oct 24, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Bravo Dash! We are proud of our little neighbor !

Like this comment
Posted by Geoff Hatcher
a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Wow! What an impressive young man. Congratulations Dashiell.... you are just getting started!

Like this comment
Posted by Annie B. of midtown
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 24, 2014 at 3:16 pm


I agree that you make Ohlone, and the world, a better place to be. Thanks for taking such good care of us. I'm very proud to know you, and happy to have you at our school.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Towfiq
a resident of Ohlone School
on Oct 24, 2014 at 4:26 pm

Way to go Dashiell!

Like this comment
Posted by JG
a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Congratulations Dashiell! Such an impressive achievement that will benefit other students, and our whole community. Thank you for your good work!

Like this comment
Posted by Irum M
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 24, 2014 at 6:19 pm

I have read this story over and over again. And am inspired at so many levels. Thank you Dashiell for providing us all with such exemplary positivity! May you shine on!!

Like this comment
Posted by Claudia Bartolini
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 24, 2014 at 9:09 pm

I am also very proud of Dashiell. I am his cousin Claudia.

Like this comment
Posted by EN
a resident of Fairmeadow School
on Oct 24, 2014 at 10:07 pm

What an inspiring story. Open, honest discussion for the win! Dashiell seems like a brave and cool kid.

1 person likes this
Posted by Michele Kwasnick
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2014 at 2:27 pm

What a neat story!! I am truly impressed by this marvelous child's accomplishments and want to commend Dashiell, his parents and family, and the entire Ohlone community for supporting this child and creating an environment where all children get to be enriched by a cool kids like Dashiell. Hooray!

I have forwarded this Palo Alto Weekly article to my brother and sister-in-law in New Hampshire. They, as parents of a wonderful 5-year old girl, who also has Down Syndrome, will love hearing about Dashiell.

Thank you so much! This story MADE MY DAY!!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Alice Elliott
a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Self-advocacy is challenging for all of us. Thanks for doing it. [Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Kerri V
a resident of another community
on Nov 1, 2014 at 5:17 am

Dashiell, at such a young age, has positively changed the future for hundreds (or thousands-or more)! I am just a gal in R.I. inspired by this article, imagine the people who this young child has personally educated. They will not grow up blind now and will be able to further educate ignorant people. For all who have met this child are not afraid of the extra chromosome because they understand it. This child has changed the future!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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