Carol Tingey thinks people are too nice to disabled children.

She doesn't want people to be mean; she wants them to treat the disabled as they would any other person."A handicapped child is more like a normal child than different," Tingey, a psychologist from Utah State University, told a Kids Who Count parents' group last weekend at the Nebo School district headquarters. "They need opportunities to fail, fall off the swing, be corrected when they're rude - everything a normal child goes through."

Kids Who Count is an early intervention program for children who have physical, emotional or intellectual developmental problems. It includes a home counseling program for children ages birth to 3 years, and nursery schools for children ages 3 to 5. Each Utah County school district has a program. For information, call 423-1112.

"We have a family focus with the younger group," Susie Perrett, director of the Nebo district program, said. "We work with the child, but we also help the family understand what help is available and that they are not alone in the world."

When Tingey gave birth to her Down's syndrome baby, Jim, now 31, she knew she wasn't alone. She had worked as a speech therapist for one such child, and a favorite high school teacher was mother to another Down's syndrome child Tingey had met.

But there were still some adjustments to make.

The most troublesome Down's syndrome symptom is mental retardation. Tingey said Jim had trouble understanding why she objected to some of his behavior.

"Once I was standing over a steaming pot of food, and Jim came over and spit into it. I was appalled. He did it the next night and the next. I scolded him, but he wouldn't stop.

"I finally gave up and hoped the heat would kill any germs. Then one day, some spaghetti started to boil over. I ran over and blew in the pot to cool it, the way my mother had always done. As the steam rose to my face, I understood. Jim thought I had been spitting into pots. He just wanted to be like me."

Tingey said Down's syndrome children are very imitative and stubborn.

"The biggest challenge many parents may face is learning to live life without ever picking their noses."

When bad behavior does start, Tingey said Down's syndrome children must learn the consequences of their actions.

She told of a Down's syndrome child who has been mainstreamed into a Utah high school. The boy has taken to lifting girls' skirts for a peek.

"The girls just ignore him and walk away. What do you think they would do if any other boy did that? They are trying to be nice to the boy, but they are being too nice and keeping him from learning about consequences."

Parents who give all their concern to a Downs syndrome child may shortchange normal siblings, she said.

"The whole time Jim was growing up and I was out trying to find him help, people would say, `What about your other kids?' I would get mad, and say, `This is the child who needs the help.'

"Well, now I know what they meant. I still have a kind of opportunity to raise Jim, but my other kids are grown, with cars, houses and families of their own. The part of their development where they need their mom is over. You can never go back and make it up."

But it has been a good experience to raise Jim, she said.

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"Jim has taught me to be more appreciative of a rose or a sunset rather than needing to explain it."

The depth of their feeling is a special gift, she said, but some Down's syndrome children must learn to be less demonstrative so they can fit into society better.

"The kids may be cute when they hug strangers at 5, but it won't be so cute when they do it at 25. It may be awkward to make 3-year-olds shake hands with non-family members, but the children need to learn a behavior that will help them for the rest of their lives."