Yep, that’s it, the one thing that I wish everyone knew about Down syndrome.
You see, Down syndrome came into my life wrapped up in a hospital receiving blanket over 15 years ago. The first time I saw my son it was with a neonatologist holding him and pointing out a few of his tiny features which had an appearance common in people with Down syndrome. I spent that night in my hospital bed replaying every single generalization I had ever heard.
The next morning my husband came in with a stack of books, and instead of generalizations, I wrapped my mind around facts. Sometimes the facts busted the generalizations, but most of all, my heart did.
You see, this diagnosis that came with so many preconceived notions also came as my beautiful, beloved baby. He was precious beyond words, and he still is!
We loved our son just as he was, in fact we adored him so much that we decided to add another child with Down syndrome to our family. I suspect we still thought that there would be great similarities between them, but nothing could be further from the truth. Our two boys are as opposite as can be.
No, we no longer generalize, now we’re on the receiving end of those assumptions. They’re usually good-natured, “They’re always so happy!” “They’re the most wonderful people in the world!” “They give such great hugs!” And of course I get it, after all I did it myself for a few decades.
But they’re my kids. No one wants their kid to be a generalization or an assumption. My boys are complex human beings; they experience every feeling you do, sometimes they don’t like hugs, and I’m here to tell you, when they are ornery, “wonderful” is nowhere near the top of the list of adjectives I’d use to describe them. Most of all though, I want the world to see that human being, I want you to see that when Alex smiles it spreads from his head to his toes, and that Ben has serious grit and determination; he can do anything he sets his mind to, and he sets his mind to an awful lot! I want you to see that Alex has one heck of a temper (he gets it from his dad), and that Ben is one sneaky little stinker. I want you to notice that Ben loves Hot Wheels and Alex knows every word to every Disney song from the past four decades.
So the next time you catch yourself starting to say, “They’re always so happy,” instead, pause and ask, “What makes him happy?”; instead of “They’re all just wonderful!”, point out something wonderful or unique about the individual. I’m betting your thoughtfulness will accepted and valued more than you would ever believe.