Down Syndrome Awareness in NYC!

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The National Down Syndrome Society established a Buddy Walk in 1995 to promote inclusion and awareness.  There are now 275 walks across the country.  This year, in Central Park, Brandon received the highest honor of The Dan Piper Advocacy award.  This award is to commemorate Dan Piper's life by celebrating a self-advocate through everyday activities. brings about a greater public awareness and understanding of people with Down syndrome in their community.  It was quite an honor and he gave a speech.  He always ends with something to think about.  

Parents - Don’t ever give up on your child.

Educators - Open the door and give us a chance.

Employers - Don’t underestimate us.

Community - Embrace us!




Los Angeles and back in one day!


Los Angeles and back in one day!

Back in August,  my friend Mikako and I flew to L.A.  for a runway model casting call. My mom found out about the opportunity from her friend and wanted me to have a chance at living my dream. There is a big change happening right now in the fashion industry, people are starting to make clothes for all different types of bodies and sizes. A group called Bezgraniz Couture was looking for models and I would be a great one.

So we packed our bags and caught an early morning flight to Long Beach. From Long Beach I ordered us a Lyft ride on my phone. Our driver was waiting for his big break in show biz too. He wants to be a comedian and write for T.V. shows. We talked about life in L.A. and where all the celebrities like to hang out. I got the “inside scoop”.

It took a while to get to the studio because traffic was kind of bad. He dropped us off and wished me luck, saying one day he hoped to see my face on a billboard. When we walked in to the place I felt so excited to be there and saw many, many different people with diverse differences.   

We got in line and started making friends right away. It made the waiting easier to chat with other people who share my same dream.Most people were interesting with amazing life stories. I met a woman who had been in combat and lost her leg, someone who had Polio as a child, and a young woman who had epilepsy.

I had to get my measurements taken before I walked the runway, that was a new experience for me! We watched other people getting their turn to shine, strutting their stuff on the catwalk. I waited hours before it was my turn. When I finally got up there I had three chances to walk the runway. The third time was the best; I threw in a little personal touch and flexed my bicep. The crowd loved it and people laughed and clapped. It felt so good to know I was rockin’ it!

After my turn on the runway, Mikako and I went to lunch at a really cool restaurant in a hip neighborhood called Echo Park. We spent two hours eating, drinking fizzy juices, resting, and enjoying the different vibe. I was imagining myself living there and what that would look like; L.A. is where my heart lives, I’d like it to be my residence too! After lunch I got us another Lyft driver.  This guy had grown up in the city and had lots of good information to share. I was tired though and took a power nap in the car while Mikako asked him questions about life in L.A.

When I woke up we were in Burbank! We cruised around on foot, just relaxing now that the hardest part of the trip was over. Mikako offered to buy me some ice cream because we were having such a good time. She was really, really proud of me for hanging tough through such a long day.

We made it to the airport in Burbank with plenty of time to spare. Which was lucky because we had a couple of surprises with our boarding passes not working. We both got a little nervous but took time to calm down and fix the problem, in the end it was no big deal. The sun was setting as we boarded our flight, the hills had a beautiful Southern California glow. It was Mikako’s turn to take a nap and she slept a little bit on the plane. Back in San Jose we picked up the car and drove home, to dream of getting called back for L.A. Fashion Week in October!

I haven’t heard back from them yet, but whether I get a chance to be in the show or not it was a great experience for me. I got to see some of L.A. with my friend, we made new friends with cool people, ate great food, and had a lot of fun.



I'm Headed to College

Last week I started school.  I am taking 3 classes.   They are: Intro to Acting, Beginning Weight Training and Planning for Success! I was excited to go to college.  It is the beginning of a new chapter in life.  My professors are really cool and cares for the students and me. I know it is going to be fun and I will learn many things. My academic partner is Mikako and I am already working on course homework and have laid out our schedule.  It’s very cool to see some of my friends from High School. My long term is going to UCLA(Pathways Program), live on my own and eventually work in Hollywood.

I want all of you to know that college and career are possible if you are willing to study and work hard. For all parents, remember to support and believe in your child. They will show you just how much they can achieve when given a chance.

Your friend,

Brandon Gruber




Highlights from NDSCC 2016!

On Friday morning my dad and I hit the ground running in Florida. I was so excited to be there! I had breakfast that first morning with my Ruby’s Rainbowfamily (check out their cool website!). After that I headed to the big conference hall by myself, independent and feeling good. I spent the morning hanging out at the Reason to Smile booth and the Ruby’s Rainbow booth. I was able to meet and talk with lots of other people at the conference; older girls, younger girls, mothers, fathers, sisters, and old friends from many different states. It was great to see some of my old friends and make lots of new friends too!

The second day dad and I spent time learning new skills and ideas. The classes were fun and interesting. I learned about long distance relationships and how to deal with the challenges of being far from your sweetheart. I also learned about getting ready for college and how to get your boxes to your dorm. I went to a workshop on speaking up with a big voice, self-advocating for younger kids, and helping parents with teaching  independent skills. Later that night at the dance, I asked all 15 girls to dance with me! And they all said yes! Some of the girls with DS asked me to dance with them, we all had a great time that night.

While we were at the conference I also:

  • Learned how Zumba dancing is just a different kind of fun dance, I tried it out…
  • Played self-advocate trivia
  • Showed off my awesome hip hop dance skills in the talent show
  • Spent time with my dad swimming at the hotel
  • Met the cast of the “Born This Way” TV show on A&E
  • Went to restaurants in Orlando
  • Had a blast!

Coming home my dad and I  felt great, extra happy that we had so much success together and learned so much. I can’t wait for next year!



Guest Blog: Top 10 Tips For Inclusion


My name is Stephen Torres-Esquer, otherwise known as Mr. Stephen, and I am HONORED to be a guest blogger for one of the most influential families in the world of “disability”.

I currently teach a Special Day Program at Lowell High School in San Francisco, California. Beyond that, I have an organization called “The Direction: Ability Advocates”, focusing on creating self-advocacy opportunities and visibility for students with intellectual and neurological differences. I have a Master’s Degree in Special Education, a Specialization Certificate in Deaf-blindness, a California Teaching Credential for Moderate to Severe Disabilities and a PhD in Kardashian Studies.

I’m teaming up with my favorite family in the world of “disability” to provide you with my #TOP10 tips for Inclusion! Let’s Get it Poppin’!


Mr. Stephen’s Top10 Tips For Inclusion


It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of “SDC vs. Full Inclusion”, or to blindly follow the recommendations of a professional in the field of education — ESPECIALLY if you’re not an educator! The thing to remember is that every person is unique. Your student deserves to have every opportunity to become as successful as possible in school and beyond! Whether that means 1 period of Integration per day, Full Inclusion or something in between, the decision should be based on the opinions of the entire IEP TEAM!


Have you ever been to an IEP meeting where the teacher just TELLS you what is best for a student without consulting with other members of the group? There’s a word for people like this: ANNOYING. No matter what your role is (Teacher, Parent, SLP, Psychologist, etc.), it’s obnoxious to have a stinky attitude and, honestly, it’ll get you nowhere. You HAVE TO be at least a little collaborative if you want to accomplish anything as part of a team.



Speaking up, especially if you’re the ONE person with an opposing idea, can be SO hard! However, a closed mouth does not get fed. Odds are that you WILL at some point need to assert your opinion as part of an IEP team. There are so many people who will show up to a meeting, a conference, the school yard, or the principal’s office just WAITING to fight! They have their list of reasons in front of them and they’re ready to let everyone have it! Don’t be this person! Find the way that you feel most comfortable communicating, and COMMUNICATE!

Some people like face-to- face interactions while others prefer phone calls, texts or e-mail. It doesn’t matter how you do it — just don’t forget that your texts and emails will be forever accessible and shareable, so be careful what you put in writing!



Literally! (in my Kardashian voice) Adults have a funny way of taking things very personally, and it’s very hard for us to take ourselves out of the equation. While it is very important to have a voice in the planning process, your voice is still one of many. Think of it this way: you are acting as a representative for a very important student, no matter what your role is! This young person’s success depends on your ability to plan, communicate, collaborate and share opinions and ideas. That’s it. You’re not there to claim the Iron Throne, so put your dragons away!



It’s so important for the parent and case manager to build a relationship, but it shouldn’t stop there. If war were to break out and all you have is ONE ally, you’d be the first to be defeated! I’m not suggesting that you spend a huge chunk of your life getting to know every single person who’s ever interacted with this student, but make it a point to be friendly. Say hello, share some snacks or coffee every once in awhile — make sure that they know your face, and make sure that when they see your face they think good thoughts! This will help you tremendously in the long run, even if war does not break out!



You might be a parent, you might be a teacher, you might be another service provider…but no matter who you are, you need to understand your role in order to help create successful outcomes. What is your role on a daily basis? What is your role in gathering information and data? What is your role in an IEP meeting? What does it mean to be a part of an IEP team? These are a few of the questions that you should try to answer early on so that you can feel confident every day in supporting this student.



I remember when I first started working in Special Education, not really understanding what each person’s role was. At first, it feels like there are a thousand people on the team and it seems like each of their jobs is so complex that you couldn’t possibly understand it. This, however, is not true!

Tip #8 is especially for parents! I believe that it would help you tremendously to find out who is on your child’s team (i.e. Speech Language Pathologist, School Psychologist, Occupational Therapist, etc.) and then find out what each of these people do. You can start with a google search if you’re too embarrassed to ask each person directly, but you should also take the time to find out what each team member is doing with your student on a regular basis!



You don’t need to go to law school to understand the gist of what your rights are, what the student’s rights are and what your options are if these rights are not being honored. The parent procedural safeguards are not reviewed in detail at every IEP meeting, so if you’re a parent and you need help going through the document, set up a separate appointment or reach out to a local organization that provides support for families of students with disabilities. If you’re an educator, know at least an overview of the history of Special Education Law. Know what you’re required to do so that you can cross your t’s and dot your i’s (and not be sued).



It’s important to be respectful of boundaries if you want to be successful. This is important whether you’re a parent dealing with a professional and vice versa, a Special Education teacher dealing with a General Education teacher and vice versa, or any adult dealing with a student. No one enjoys being pushed beyond their personal limits.


The teacher is not the only person responsible for providing information and data to support the IEP. Each member of the team should contribute, and it’s important to share that information and to provide each other with an appropriate amount of support. Providing a Free and Appropriate Public Education in the Least Restrictive Environment is NOT an easy job! The second that someone (particularly General Educators) feels unsupported, the natural reaction is to become upset and push back. The last thing we want is for someone to say, “Well, I don’t know what to do anymore so I won’t do a damn thing!”



Treating Yourself With Respect

Behavior affects how people treat you, what opportunities you are offered, and who wants to be your friend. You are responsible for your own behavior and it’s important to handle your behavior for yourself.  

Sometimes how we see ourselves is different than how others see us. Always try to use your best manners to show your best self. Adjust your behavior for different situations to keep yourself open to new opportunities.

     If you want to be treated a certain way you can change your own behavior. The change in you comes first. The whole picture will come into focus and personal goals will be achieved! You can start to change your behavior by choosing kindness today.

Signing off,

Brandon Gruber  

Community service is a great opportunity to kindly help others and to show people your best self.

Community service is a great opportunity to kindly help others and to show people your best self.



Focusing on what you DO have

Do you often feel disappointed about who you are or what you have? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. When I focus on what I don’t have instead of what I do have, I feel super bummed out. I feel empty inside, I get a bad attitude, and I feel afraid that I’m not going to meet my goals. It sucks my positive energy until it’s all gone.

I don’t want to feel all that crummy stuff. I want to feel excited and full of happiness so I can keep doing what I love doing. I want my positive vibes to come back to me! So I am learning to focus on what I DO have.

When I started shifting my focus to the positive side of life, I felt my sad feelings change to mixed feelings. And that’s a step in the right direction!

It’s really not that easy to stay focused on the positives; you will probably step off the right track and start feeling down again. You might want to give up when the ugly feelings keep coming back. Don’t give up, fight the feeling!  Most people feel disappointed from time to time, but new possibilities can come their way if they are working to stay positive.

Make encouraging comments to yourself, it really does help. You can try saying things like, “You can do this!” or “It’s ok, next time I’ll do better”.  It might feel silly at first but it starts to work once you start to believe it. Then you’ll be able to calm yourself down as much as you need to.

We all need to feel relaxed sometimes, and if you’re always thinking about what you don’t have it’s hard to relax and impossible to chill. Sometimes it takes courage to really look at yourself and discover that things aren’t as bad as you thought. Find yourself and have fun.




321 Life Academy

Growing up is hard to do, no matter who you are. And that’s why we created the 321 Life Academy to support and teach new skills to young men. We want to give them hope and show them that there are people in the community who notice they might need some extra attention.

One of the main things we focus on is developing each young man’s leadership skills. Leadership is not just about being bossy, its about inspiring others to do more in life. Good leaders need to be able to encourage others.

Here we are at a Santa Cruz Warriors game, the first time most of these guys had been to a game. We had a blast!

We also talk about character building, what makes you you. That is about sharing your personality, having self-confidence, taking care of yourself and your body. We talk about our personal goals and the dreams we have.
Some of the young men don’t think they have dreams or pretend they don’t care what happens in their lives, but then as a group we talk and discover they do.

The third pillar of the academy is about mentoring. We talk about how to be the most positive role model you can be, even when those around you are not making good choices.

Signing off,

Brandon Gruber







Modeling is a powerful tool to show the world that people with Down syndrome are more alike than different.  They can strike a pose and boom, show them what kind of swag they have going on.  The teacher from this design class said Brandon showed the models how to walk the runway, turn and show them how to do it.  This group was from Silicon Valley Technical Institute.  Brandon was a guest model.