Dylan James Gillig – a current high school senior – and his younger siblings Jonah, Jonas, and Victoria currently live on a farm with their parents in Sedro-Woolley. The farm is large enough to manage crops, cows, goats, chickens, ducks and lambs. Farm life affords advantages, including the ability to easily do animal 4-H.
Dylan is a charter member of the Sties and Stalls 4-H Club, started in 2018 by his aunt, Heather Fairbank. Heather lives in Snohomish County, but comes up to Skagit for weekly meetings. There are about a dozen kids under the age of 18 in her group, including Dylan and his siblings. Dylan joined with his baby goat, Wiggles, first training the kid to walk on a lead.
“I like goats and cows,” says Dylan.
At the time, Dylan was an eighth grader, but not your average student. “When we started in 2018, the first goal was for Dylan to hang on to the leash,” says Heather. That’s because Dylan was born with ventricular septal defect, meaning part of his heart was not intact. This was only one of the many physical manifestations of his being born with Down syndrome. He is also legally blind, and while he can see with his glasses, printing has to be very large. He can’t see depth. When walking in new places or going up and down stairs, oftentimes he’s holding on to somebody’s arm. This can make walking an energetic goat kid difficult. But Dylan wasn’t about to give up.
By summer of 2022, Dylan was able to master a maneuver called stacking the feet, to properly present Wiggles to the judges while showing at the Evergreen State Fair. The result was a winning one. “He ended up with a fistful of ribbons at the Fair, including a rosette for the Champion Top Boy Pigmy Goat for Body Confirmation,” Heather shares.
He’s stellar showmanship and is enthusiastic to share his knowledge with anyone willing to listen. “When he’s at the fair and people come to look at the goats, he’ll walk them through the whole barn, and show them everything,” shares Kristy. “People enjoy it, and then thank him for his time. Sometimes I actually have to usher him away.
“People ask for him to show them around,” adds Heather.
Dylan loves being part of his 4-H club, attending every meeting and participating in the lessons and practices. At the end of each 4-H meeting, Dylan is responsible for the group sendoff, with his parting message to each participant being “Good job, high five!”
High School and Beyond for Dylan Gillig
When Dylan was born, his mother Kristy was more concerned with him surviving, much less graduating from high school. His first open heart surgery was at 4 months of age. “They had to build his heart chambers,” shares Kristy. “The surgery took quite a bit of time and they weren’t able to fix another problem, a mitral valve defect. They were hoping he would outgrow it. He’ll eventually have to have a micro valve replacement.” For this, he has regular heart checks in Seattle.
With all of his challenges, Kristy is hopeful for Dylan’s future. She credits his possibilities and is grateful for both the educational and social experiences he has had since birth, both from his teachers and community service partners.
After his 2023 high school graduation, Dylan will transition to the ATTIC program offered in Burlington. This three-year program focuses on independent living skills for the first two years, then it transitions to vocational training.
Once the ATTIC program is completed, Kristy doesn’t have anything pinned down for Dylan. She has not been able to find an adult-focused social or vocational program in Skagit County that fully supports families with impacted adult children, or to assist with respite care.
“It’s even more lacking in the eastern part of Skagit County,” says Kristy. “In Bellingham, there is more community involvement and more transitional support than there is currently Skagit County. I’d love to see that grow in Skagit County. I want to use the opportunity to advocate, for not just Dylan, but individuals like Dylan, so that they have citizenship. I think that’s the biggest part, being able to be a citizen in the community. To have a meaningful citizenship.”
The family is preparing to make big decisions regarding how they can best support their whole family. “You know,” Kristy says, “I’m being realistic that I don’t think he’s going to live independently. But some semi-independence would be great. For example, cooking is something that we continually work on. One of his recent goals is to work on visual recipes and follow the steps in the pictures. We’ve color coded his tablespoons and cups and then match it so that he can follow the recipe. But, operating a gas stove is probably not going to be in his répertoire. Fully independent living is probably not gonna happen. Some semi-independence is our hope for him. We’re hoping that we can find some social outlet for him in Burlington and Skagit County. The social component is actually the most important part for us.”
As for Dylan, he is looking forward to going on his choir trip to Disneyland, the senior field trip and his last Skagit County Fair has a 4-H member showing his goats. He would love to come visit in 2023.