Fall is upon us!
For many, including me, autumn is a time for traditions: apple picking, pumpkin patches, hot apple cider with friends on a hayride, and tailgating before football games. The weather (where I live, anyway) is cooling down, and it’s finally time to break out the cozy sweaters and cute boots. It’s a fun-filled time to make memories and enjoy the company of family.
October also brings us another meaningful time for my family, as it is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month.
You’ll see it celebrated with yellow and blue awareness ribbons, testimonies to all of the wonderful accomplishments belonging to individuals with Down syndrome, and many social media stories about students with Down syndrome participating in activities like sports or school dances, as if those experiences should be considered a heroic act.
All of these celebrations are important; they bring Down syndrome back into the conversation and raise awareness about this extraordinary community. But every year I find myself wishing we could move past the awareness piece and turn to acceptance.
We need to broaden our perspective of what people with Down syndrome are able to do, and we should begin expecting that as the norm. I think the longer and harder I find myself advocating for my teenage son with Down syndrome, the more impatient I grow with our society’s low expectations of people with disabilities.
Some may look at a person with Down syndrome simply existing, and regard them as a “super being”.
I see that person and admire their determination to succeed in a society that sets such low expectations.
Some may hear my stories of advocacy and refer to me as a “warrior mom”.
I hear my trembling voice at a meeting table and know that I am a dedicated advocate who would do the same for all of my kids, with the end goal of making the situation better for all students.
Some may view my son as an opportunity to simply display kindness.
I see him as a high schooler who longs for authentic friendships.
Some may use phrases like “he’s so cute,” “he is always smiling,” or “he gives the best hugs” when talking about my son.
I use phrases like “dignity of risk” and “learned helplessness” and “the bigotry of low expectations” when talking about him.
Some may decide that, based on his disability, my son should be placed in a segregated setting for his education.
I see a student who dreams of someday attending college, just like his peers.
This year, if you choose to participate in National Down Syndrome Awareness Month in any capacity, I implore you to look beyond the basic understanding that so many people carry about these individuals. Raise your expectations. Believe that they can achieve great things, and when they do, celebrate them just as you would any other kid who is collecting the same accomplishments. Be inclusive, but truly inclusive (if you don’t know how, please ask a parent who practices inclusion; we are happy to share our insights!). Stop saying the r-word, and even if you have dropped that terrible word from your own vocabulary, step up and correct others who have yet to become as enlightened as we are.
It’s way beyond time to flip the narrative and raise our expectations.
And as I would do with any of my favorite fall traditions, I’ll ask you to do this right alongside me.
My son and his peers with Down syndrome are worth it.
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