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A day in the life of Andrew Barrow

Park City teenager adapts to life in the mainstream

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When Andrew Barrow was 22 months old, doctors predicted he would never walk. He would never talk, either, and he would probably die by the age of 10, they said.

Sixteen years later, he attends public school, he's popular, and he's able to do almost anything.

Barrow has Lowe syndrome, a rare genetic condition that has left him mildly retarded. He has poor muscle tone, weak bones, bad eyesight and muddled speech.

He is 4 feet tall . . . small for an 18-year-old high school kid. He's stocky, plump and his feet turn out at the toes. He rocks from side to side when he walks, and his hands are tiny.

He looks out at the world through thick glasses.

When this reporter visited him in April, he was in a ceramics class at Park City High School. The class helped him work the muscles in his hands and improve his motor skills.

There was a time when Andrew's parents, Ted and Debbie Barrow, couldn't fathom their son attending public school. "We thought he would get lost in the cracks," said Debbie.

Three years ago they moved to Utah from Arkansas, where Andrew had attended a school for disabled children.

He enrolled in the special-education program at Park City High School, and students and teachers opened their arms and their hearts.

Andrew, miraculously, blossomed.

"The goal for Andrew and others (in the special-ed program) is that when they leave school they will have gained some kind of independence that will help improve the quality of their lives," said special-ed teacher Susan Barbisan.

That's why after ceramics class he made his own lunch with food he bought at a grocery store. He's learning how to do things on his own.

Tara Bacon, an aide in the special-ed program, helped him prepare instant mashed potatoes. Andrew knew how much water to add. "Two quarts," he said.

It was actually two cups. Then they measured one cup of dehydrated potatoes.

Andrew personifies slow motion in a fast-track world where kids play basketball and take driver's ed, where they walk quickly through the halls and dash up and down stairs.

A flight of stairs lay between Tara and Andrew and Barbisan's classroom. He faced the railing, placing one foot and then the other on each step. Tara encouraged him to alternate his feet. "Left, right, repeat," she said. "It's faster this way." He tried it for a few steps but went back to his reliable method. It's more stable his way.

He moved through the hallways like a small truck, puttering along through crowds of students. His peers weren't afraid to show their affection. They tossled his hair as he walked down the hall and gave him hugs in the classroom.

Although every day is a struggle, keeping track of his blood pressure and taking medications, there are triumphs, too.

Math, for example, is a favorite subject.

His workbook was full of simple arithmetic problems. After he finished a problem, he said the answer out loud. He could say the answers faster than he could write them down. He got them all right.

In band he played the bongo drum, keeping time with his right hand while pounding on the drum with his left.

And he's made the honor roll, a fact that didn't go unnoticed by his peers.

He also excelled in gym in the past few months. "He (used to be) really big," said John Laser, one of the "peer/tutors" who was assigned to walk Andrew to class and help him with his homework. "But now he can do push-ups, sit-ups and squats. He even ran a lap around the track."

Barbisan attributed Andrew's success to hard work. "We're slave drivers here," she said.

But with the hard work comes rewards. Every Friday, special-ed teacher Debbi Jensen took him to the library and read him Dr. Seuss books.

And he seems to have a caring relationship with his younger sister Katie. Tall, with deep brown eyes, she looks 10 years older than Andrew. She occasionally touched base with him during the day, once she pulled him aside and said something that made him squeal with laughter.

But the biggest surprise of all was his first date, with Megan, a classmate who has Down syndrome. Teacher Susan Chaimberlan accompanied Andrew and Megan when they went out for Chinese food. Afterward, he walked Megan to her door and asked her mother if he could take her out again. He wanted to eat Mexican food and then go bowling.

But amid the lessons in math and the sessions in band, he's learned something even more important.

He's learned that he, too, has something to give back.

Once a week he tutored kindergarten kids.

And every other day he went with Barbisan to the old St. Mary's Church at the top of Park City's Main Street to fold clothes for a thrift store in Heber City. She handed him piles of shirts and skirts and showed him over and over again how to fold them properly.

"Am I doin' good?" he asked her. "Yes, you are," she replied.

The day ended on a loving note.

Andrew said he'd had a good day. He'd played his drum in band, he'd paid attention in class, and he'd made the honor roll.

He told Barbisan he loved her.

He seems to know that the world runs on love.

Sometimes it's difficult to understand what Andrew is saying. He speaks with a sing-songy Southern accent in a bird-like voice. But you'd recognize one phrase: "I love you."

Once, in fact, he shouted out "I love you" in an assembly.

It's something he apparently says a lot.