In a candid interview, conducted on behalf of Protected Tomorrows, with freelance writer David Block, Chuck and Sally Heath, parents of Sarah Palin, reveal how their family opened their minds and their hearts when Sarah’s son, Trig, was born with Down Syndrome.
The family’s journey in raising two-and-a-half year old Trig has been one anchored by a positive attitude and an unwavering determination to have Trig be treated like any other child. The family considers this new chapter in their lives not as a frightening unknown, but as a gift that will be an exciting challenge and learning experience for everyone.
While there is a lot of information available about children with Down Syndrome, the condition varies greatly from child to child. Because of this, the family doesn’t really know what to expect from Trig. Despite the uncertainty that lies ahead, both Chuck and Sally eagerly admit that they are looking forward to going along for the ride. As they talk about their grandson with special needs, it is quite obvious that he is adored by them both.
Because Trig is still very young, everything is a new adventure for the family and they are learning as they go along. Sally happily related that Trig learned to walk on time and can even communicate, even when he doesn’t speak. “He walks over to what he wants, or he points,” Sally explained. Trig also uses sign language to communicate his wants and needs.
Like many other children his age, Trig is fascinated by books. “He likes bedtime stories,” Sally said. “He loves to sit on Sarah’s lap, or anybody else’s lap, and be read to.” Trig has a favorite toy, a stuffed fox, and loves music and dancing. Sally describes Trig as a mild-mannered child. “He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body,” she said. She hopes that his kind, gentle nature does not hinder him from standing up for what he wants as he grows older.
Having a family in the public spotlight can be difficult for any child under the most ideal of circumstances. The Palin family does its best to maintain their privacy while under the public microscope, particularly when it comes to their children. The family does not, however, make any special effort to keep Trig out of the public arena. “He goes where everybody else in the family goes,” Sally explained. “We forget that people might look at him differently, because he certainly fits in wherever he goes.”
Sarah Palin’s status as a prominent public figure gives the family the unique opportunity to help educate the public about Down Syndrome. Chuck and Sally believe that teaching by example is one of the best ways to educate the public. “When the Palin children are out in the public eye, Trig is always included,” Sally said. This philosophy underscores the family’s desire to provide Trig with as normal a life as possible. Sarah advises parents of children with Down Syndrome not to hesitate to take them out so that they can enjoy people and things and in return have people meet them, too. Chuck, who was a teacher for nearly 30 years, added that some of his favorite students had Down Syndrome. “They were loving and caring children. They just wanted to please me and please other people.”
The positive and uplifting approach that the entire Palin family has taken with respect to Trig is an inspiration to all families of children with Down Syndrome. Each child with Down Syndrome is different, and each has their own unique abilities that need to be explored and encouraged.
Trig is named after a great uncle who was a Bristol Bay fisherman. His name, which has Norse roots, evokes strength, bravery, and victory — character traits that will serve him well as he faces the challenges of growing up with special needs. As long as the Palin family remains in the public spotlight, we will all have the unique opportunity to watch Trig grow and develop along with his siblings in an environment where he will be challenged, but will also be treated as just another Palin.
Protected Tomorrows understands Chuck and Sally’s desire for Trig to lead a normal life and to experience all that life has to offer. Part of leading a normal life is being part of a family, which includes grandparents who want the best for their grandchild. Chuck and Sally’s close involvement in Trig’s life is indicative of the vitally important role that grandparents play in the overall family dynamic. Grandparents not only participate as caregivers, but are often intrinsically involved with planning for their grandchild’s future. Proper gifting and estate planning by grandparents is critical to ensure that any bequests to a grandchild with special needs do not jeopardize the grandchild’s current or future benefits. By planning intelligently, grandparents can help ensure that their grandchild with special needs truly has the best chance to experience all that a normal life has to offer.