We got a new car today and at the end of the 4 hours my Down syndrome son and I spent with the salesman he pulled me aside and said that he had enjoyed seeing my son’s personality shine through, attributing it to the way my husband (who came in at the 2 hour mark) and I had treated him. I don’t know what the salesman might have expected as I don’t suppose he’d spent 4 hours with a Down syndrome person before but there was apparently something he had found worth observing. The very fact that he did observe and was open to forming an opinion spoke volumes to me.
I have reflected before about being grateful for the day and age that we live in with regard to the way the world responds to my son. Surely there was a time when a handicapped person would never have been involved in that type of situation. Surely there was a time when, even if present, a Down syndrome person’s actions wouldn’t have been seen as an interesting study in human behavior, let alone a “personality” that could “shine”.
In doing some genealogy lately I’ve come across a number of children who, over the previous couple of hundred years, died at very young ages. It got me wondering – were any of them Down syndrome? Trisomy 21 isn’t necessarily genetic, in fact I don’t know of any other Down syndrome persons born in either of our extended families, but likely in all the lengthy history of these large families there must have been some with genetic handicaps. How were these people treated? What was the experience of their families in the broader world?
Two of my son’s great friends (whose diagnoses I don’t know but who are handicapped and whom we know from a dozen years together on a baseball team) have been elected Homecoming King at their respective high schools. Two of my son’s handicapped friends have served as managers of their high school’s football and basketball teams.
The acceptance that these kids know is a result of modern-day social thought that allows bringing handicapped people out into the open. This can be directly attributed to an awareness in the person of Eunice Kennedy Shriver who had a handicapped sister and whose wonderings nearly 50 years ago have given my son not only the ability to pass freely through society but also, and specifically, the Special Olympics where he participates on a golf team in the springtime. This in turn led him to successfully earn the golf merit badge in his Boy Scout troop.
So many things are open and available to special needs kids because people’s minds are now open and available to their existence.
There is a very cute girl who my son has had a huge crush on for many years and who is also Down syndrome. He wanted so much to take her on a date to one of our church dances. This adorable girl is far more high-functioning than my son but she knows him well and accepted his invitation to try this new experience. Well, my son’s lack of social skills meant that he wouldn’t even talk to her once we got to the dance and in spite of my husband and me encouraging him he didn’t actually dance with her either. We can smile about it, all was well, because this dear girl has had the opportunity to be a cheerleader at her high school and there were a bunch of “normal” students from that school also at the dance who recognized her and included her in their dance circle. Certainly aided by the fact that one of those students was a boy on their football team who she happened to have a crush on, she was able to be part of things and had a wonderful time.
One of the dads at our baseball games takes his daughter out of her wheelchair, laying her next to home plate after she’s rounded the bases and kicks dirt on her. She laughs and everyone cheers! It’s a ritual: twice a game, 16 Saturdays, for 12 years. It may seem peculiar but if he didn’t do it she would insist on it!
We have a friend who is a professional football player and who was a special ed major in college. He taught my son how to snap his fingers. Every time we are with him, see this friend on TV or hear his name on the radio, my son will start snapping his fingers.
My son feels part of the world . . .
Thank you Eric Weddle, thank you “buddies” for our baseball team, thank you Special Olympics golf coaches, scout merit badge counselors, friends in the school choir, Costco workers who still draw a smiley face on our receipt even though my son is more than 20 years old. Thanks to Eunice Shriver for bringing our kids out of the shadows and allowing them to “shine”.
My son does have personality. And so does every other handicapped person we’ve ever met. It’s not always readily discernable – – and may even take 4 hours confined to a small room to let it come out (though please, I don’t want to do that again soon!) – – and each one finds happiness in things that they do.
Thankfully in this day and age there is literally no limit to the choices that they can make. In that way the world we live in today is a much better place than ever before. That’s a rare sentiment but for my son and our family, I am so happy that it is true.
P.S. I’d like to recommend a book titled “Born on a Blue Day” by Daniel Tammet. This is an autobiography of an autistic man. He is so high functioning that he is able to explain the way his brain works. His thinking is fascinatingly different from most of us and he is very happy with it being that way.