Burien brothers and Gregory Heights School students, Gage Schwieger, left, and Alexander, right, are pictured assembling spongy states from a large puzzle. Also slightly puzzling, Gage, 7, has Down Syndrome. Alexander is gifted, and a Mensa member. Each seems to lean on the other in different ways.
Burien brothers reach across the spectrum & nurture each other
Many have heard the expression from Tolstoy's opening line in Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” A visit to the Schwieger family of Burien seems to contradict this, and proves that some happy families are quite happy in their own way.
Gage, 7, has Down Syndrome while his five year-old brother, Alexander, a Mensa member, has tested in the top one percent on the intelligence spectrum for his age. He was given the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities.
As you watch the sibs accommodate each other, and merrily interact, It is hard to avoid the cliche both kids are "special", yet it rings true. Both attend Gregory Heights School. Alexander, or Alex, leaped directly into first grade at age 5. Gage is in second grade. Alex tudors Gage in reading and comprehension, while Gage is protective of his younger brother, appreciative of his help, and dignified while quite aware of the unique family dynamic.
Parents Bob and Anne have their own business, a freight forwarding company, AES Logistics, named for her initials. As parents, and professionals, well, there is that other cliche, their hands are full.
Said Bob, who runs marathons, fundraises for Down Syndrome, and recently raised $4,000 for Gregory Heights' Resource Center by completing a half iron-man, "Probably the biggest challenge we have from a parent standpoint is that we have to spend time at school to advocate for both of our sons, for Gage to be in the right classroom setting, the right environment, the right everything. With Alex we have meetings with teachers and administrators to progress, to be able to do what is at his level. School is geared for the 80 percent majority in the middle."
Bob and Anne point out that the principal is very supportive in placing each brother on the right track to develop best at his pace. Though in second grade, Gage is considered high functioning and tests near the middle of the first grade level, which his parents said is "tremendous for a child with Down Syndrome."
"We wanted them in the same school," said Anne. "We can't homeschool because neither of us is a stay-at-home parent."
Seattle Country Day School does offer a "gifted student" program.
"They charge $21,000 a year for kids," said Bob with a subtle roll of the eyes. He's right. According to their website, their tuition for grades K-3 is $20,733 plus meals, field trips, and other goodies.
"I want to be a weatherman when I grow up," declared Alex, whose parents said he is extremely absorbed both in weather patterns, as well as baseball, basketball, and hockey like most other young boys. "I like to watch thunderstorms, lightning, and I like to watch tornados and hurricanes (on TV.)"
Alex said he loves his brother, and added, "When Gage reads, I need to say (out loud) what he doesn't understand."
Said Gage with a smile, "He helps me with questions when I read books."
While some think that those who can, join the Mensa organization, which requires a minimum of a 130 I.Q., for bragging rights, Bob and Anne said that Mensa is more than that.
Anne explained, "Mensa has a gifted child program that offers resources, and connections between other parents with kids in Mensa. Through Mensa, Johns Hopkins University has a youth program. Alex qualified. A lot of doors will open.
"We don't know what the future holds in either spectrum," said Anne of Gage and Alex.
One thing seems certain about their future. A lot of doors will open for both brothers as each helps the other along the way.