There’s no lack of intensity in the Banahan family. When asked what had prepared her daughter, Julia, for post-secondary education, Paula Banahan replied without hesitation, “Nothing—except for determination.” She then clarified that Julia’s social experience in high school was very positive saying, “She had all kinds of friends and they helped her incredibly. She was the ‘belle of the ball’.” But Paula went on to describe her daughter’s academic experience as “a total drudge uphill.” When I met with the psychologist in Julia’s junior year, he looked at me and said, ‘Mrs. Banahan, your daughter has Down syndrome and you need to understand she has reached her limit and she’s probably not going to college.’ At that point I stopped the meeting, saying I would be happy to reconvene when everyone agreed that the sole purpose of the meeting would be to strategize how to get Julia into community college.” Julia’s twin brother, Bobby, once said Julia was the single most important influence in his life by proving time and time again that she can do things everyone thought to be impossible.
A few years later, there was a very different school meeting. Julia’s first attempt to pass the Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program at Brookline College was not successful. Julia, Paula, and an administrator sat discussing the possibility of allowing Julia to repeat the CNA course a second and possibly a third time if necessary. It was Julia who stopped that meeting, declaring, “I am not doing this a third time. I will pass the second time.” And she did. Out of 13 students, Julia was one of five who successfully went on to the complete the clinical portion of the program. Through hard work, good coaching from Paula (herself an RN) and appropriate accommodations, Julia was able to complete her clinicals and become a Certified Nursing Assistant. Julia still faces some challenges in the process of obtaining her license, but with Paula’s help, Julia is working through it.
For now, Julia maintains her interest in the medical field by volunteering at Phoenix Children’s Hospital in the Down Syndrome Clinic run by Developmental Pediatrician Dr. Robin Blitz. When she talks about her duties at the hospital, Julia brightens, “I like being around kids. Sometimes I read to them, and some of them have what I have: Down syndrome.” She does acknowledge the job is not without some challenges, “It’s hard for me to see kids hurt. Sometimes I care too much.”
When Julia was approaching 18, her parents considered the legal options available and concluded that guardianship was not the right choice. Paula and Jim recall thinking, “For us to go into a court of law and say that Julia is incompetent to decide if she wants to get married or have kids, we can’t say that. We won’t take that away from her but we will help her. And she’s fine with us having power of attorney. We felt it would be more difficult to reverse guardianship.”
Julia recently started her first job as a hostess at Aunt Chilada’s restaurant in North Phoenix and she’s looking forward to voting in her second presidential election. Although she says it is too soon for her to decide who she’ll be voting for, she’ll be doing her research, “I want to see how they stand on the issues I’m for. I find out by reading newspapers, watching television and having discussions with family about issues.” And what are Julia’s hopes for her volunteer position at Phoenix Children’s Hospital? She offers, “It might turn out to be a paying job.”
If Julia’s determination to succeed is any guide, it seems very possible that it will.