“Perhaps he could work at an aquarium?”

Over the course of the next few years, as Jamie realized (thanks largely to a very disability-friendly seventh-grade science teacher) just how hard it is to master the basics of biology, he scaled back his hopes. He knew he was having trouble naming all the parts of a cell, just as he knew that he could not account for all the components of the gastrointestinal tract. Even in biology class, though, he had some goalpost-moving moments. His teacher had very kindly “adapted” the tests and quizzes for him so that, for instance, he only had to name half the parts of a cell and half the GI tract. (I wondered: When, between the ages of 12 and 21, do the legions of his nondisabled peers forget about vacuoles and mitochondria?) So when we were doing his homework one night, I said, “We can skip the pancreas; I don’t think you know that one.” And he replied, “Lucy the dog had pancreatitis and cannot eat spicy food.” OK, I thought, maybe you do know about the pancreas. My bad. Goalposts duly adjusted.

By the end of the year, though, Jamie had lowered his sights from “marine biologist” to “marine biologist helper.” And by the end of eighth grade, when we met with all his teachers and aides and paraprofessionals to go over the Individualized Education Program that would chart his way through high school (good news: the high school French teacher agreed to have him in French 1 for two years and French 2 for two years!), when he was asked what he might do for a living when he graduated, he said dejectedly, “Groceries, I guess.”

I’m not sure what I would have felt that day if I had known that he would have to settle for less than that.

Read More | “For Hire: Dedicated Young Man with Down Syndrome” | Michael Be?rube? | Al Jazeera America