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On inviting all children, including those born with down syndrome

By Marcus Hondro     Jun 26, 2016 in World
I am not a weeper. Never have been. It's not uncommon for us men to stifle tears and we could argue whether it's due to nature or nurture. But not here, not now. This is about 2 kids, each born with down syndrome, and how they blessed me with tears.
On understanding inclusion
I have never met these children and do not have a photo of either, but for this story I downloaded a warm photo from Creative Commons that shows two wonderful children sharing a hug. Each giving and receiving something we all like to give and receive: warmth.
Despite never having met the kids in the flesh I am going to write about, I swear the stories that I read about them, and will share now, brought tears to my eyes. Being such a rare thing I feel rather grateful to them, and their parents who shared their stories.
The first comes courtesy Jennifer in Langley, B.C., who has a son named Sawyer, who looks to be in about grade 2. Sawyer is by all accounts an amusing and very loving and capable child. He is social and enjoys family and friends.
But this happened to him: his entire class at school, with the notable exception of Sawyer, was invited to one of their classmates birthday party. So all of those 22 other children were to experience a birthday party together, only Sawyer was excluded.
Sawyer was the only one among them born with down (sometimes written as 'down's') syndrome. As moms and dads of kids who have extra challenges are aware, there are those who don't seem to get it, who are in a past where the exclusion of children, and of adults, with challenges such as Sawyer's, is considered de rigueur. Because of what? Fear? Ignorance? Whatever the reason, it needs to change.
Educating, not blaming
Jennifer did not want to leave the issue of her son's exclusion alone, yet she is not a woman to place blame. So she posted an open letter on Facebook that is garnering views and comments, and in it she did some gentle educating.
The only blaming she did was blame herself for not going into the classroom early in the year to talk to parents and kids and help them to understand Sawyer is a kid like all kids. That her son needs love, gives love, expresses joy, learns, plays etc. etc. Had she done so, Jennifer feels her son might have been invited to that party.
Her words posted elicited my tears and made me see good in Sawyer's story, not that he was excluded but that it serves as a reminder that becoming a compassionate and inclusive society requires effort and vigilance. That blame is unhelpful but understanding and educating are powerful tools when it comes to ameliorating our world.
Jennifer noted in her post of how she did not expect her son to get invited to every birthday party but that to be the only one not invited made it easy to see why it was so. Instead of becoming angry, the loving mother tried to help the parents responsible for the excluding. Here is some of what she wrote:
I am sorry you are not informed, maybe scared, or uncertain about what it means to have Down Syndrome. I know if you knew more about Down Syndrome you wouldn’t have made this decision. I am not mad at you. Rather, I think this is an opportunity for you to get to know my son better. You see, having Down Syndrome doesn’t mean that you don’t want to have friends. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have feelings. It doesn’t mean you don’t like to go to birthday parties. People with Down Syndrome want the same things that you and I want. They want to have close relationships, they want to feel love, they want to contribute, they want to have meaningful lives, and they want to go to birthday parties. It may be more difficult at times to understand my child. But the laughter and love that you share doesn’t need interpretation.
I want you to know that I was also like you. I was scared, uncertain and misinformed about Down Syndrome before having my son. I was so worried that my other children wouldn’t be able to connect with him in the same way as other siblings do. But I was wrong. In fact, my children are closer than most other siblings are. Having a brother with Down Syndrome has helped shape them into compassionate individuals who know that just because you may be a little different that others, that it’s OK. They are not afraid to help when they see someone struggling. And they are not afraid to approach someone they might not fully understand. In return they have received so much love and joy from having their brother as their best friend.
The value of acceptance
I'm glad I found this second story because it shows that we are changing, growing better. We are better at inclusion and while, again, we must be ever-vigilante, it's also nice to recognize that very often now people do value and cherish one another despite differences. Many of us recognize that differences are to be embraced, not shunned, not judged and not run from in fear.
This story I found on Shareably and it originates from a father who visited a Tim Horton's with his two daughters recently. While there he noticed two women openly gawking about his daughter Sophia, born with down syndrome.
They were talking about her differences, it seemed evident to the father. It would appear they found her strange in some way. As they were having this experience a couple approached the man and his daughters.
When the male of the couple began to speak, the father of the two little girls tells us that he thought he knew what was coming. 'Here we go again' he thought. The usual. Words about Sophia that would hurt. But instead he got something different. This is what he got:
The man greeted Sophia with a high five and a handshake, and Sophia smiled and waved back. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "I have a story I would really like to share with you. But I am afraid I wont get through it without choking up." I gently encouraged him to share, because now I was curious. This interaction was not what I was expecting.
He told me that he had watched the news last night. There was an interview of a mother who had recently given birth to a child with a major disability. She was on the news defending her decision to keep her baby. She was defending her choice NOT to terminate despite her doctors encouraging her to do so. He said, "The point is, you never know a persons impact on the world. You can never know what a person is able to do unless you give them a chance." He looked at me just before he turned to walk away and said, "You are a beautiful person. Your daughter is beautiful. Congratulations!"
I'm not a numbers guy. Not going to research how many children born with down syndrome there are and how many were born not with down syndrome, or how many this or how many that, and pass along the the numbers. It's simply my wish, and what I try and contribute toward, that our world will get to the place where it treats everyone with respect and dignity.
That the world we share sees, wholly and forever sees, that we have differences and similarities, that we are a mixed bag, no two of us identically alike. And that each of us deserves respect, love, to reach potential and to be invited to the party along with everybody else.
And finally there's a happy ending to the story about Sawyer. As reported by CBC News, mom Jennifer said that thousands of people read her open letter, including a parent of the child having a birthday. The result? Sawyer has been invited to the party along with all of his classmates.
"The parent read my letter, spoke to their child about Sawyer, and the child created a special birthday invite for Sawyer," Jennifer said. "Of course he's been beaming ever since and can't stop talking about it."
See what I mean about tears?
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