As I’ve recently joined an online group for families with multiples where 1 or more children have DS, I’ve been exposed to a great but relatively small group of people, many of whom are challenged in big ways with regards to medical issues surrounding their children’s diagnoses. I am so very thankful to GOD that my boys are healthy, having been born without the oft-occurring medical conditions that sometimes accompany DS (knock wood). Despite huge worries, I’ve noticed stories of hope and success are woven throughout the posts. So, in honor of Down syndrome Awareness Month, my new-found friends and their wonderful children, I’d like to relay what I consider a hopeful story told to me by my father when my identical twin boys were diagnosed at birth with Down syndrome.
His story was about a young lady, who I’ve never met, who happened to have Down syndrome. Many years ago, my Dad worked for the Dime Savings Bank. One of the VPs of that bank happened to have a sibling with Down syndrome. As such, this man recognized that there was so much more potential than was being tapped in these special individuals… “back in those days”. (Sadly, still true today.) However, this man took it upon himself to do something to counter that injustice. He created a large division of the bank that gainfully employed, not exclusively but predominantly, individuals with Down syndrome.
Now, my dad hailed from the older generation that were taught that people with DS were mentally retarded and were generally institutionalized. However, his position in records management with the bank put him in contact with literally every one employed by the bank, including this “special division”. On a daily basis, he observed employee work ethics, professional demeanor and competence in all parts of the bank and quickly came to view the folks working in this “special division” as quite capable and even more dedicated to the accurate and responsible fulfillment of their duties in their jobs than most of the other “able-bodied” (his words) employees.
In short order, he befriended a few of these folks, greeting them and chatting for a few moments whenever time permitted. But, one particular young woman consistently impressed him. Mind you, being old school, he still THOUGHT what he had been taught but found her to be an outlier, in his opinion.
One Monday morning this young lady greeted my father as pleasantly as always and added that she’d seen him walking through town over the weekend. When my Dad asked, “Oh, why didn’t you stop and say hello?” She explained that she was driving past on her way somewhere with her Mom and couldn’t stop just then. My Dad ignorantly (read: uneducated) commented that he understood, what with her mother driving her somewhere… To which she good-naturedly corrected him, “Actually, I was driving my mother. I have my drivers’ license and my own car!” Mortified at his assumption, he made quick and profuse apologies. She just laughed, forgiving him without an ounce of anger or ego. And, their friendship continued unabated throughout their days of employment at the bank.
You see, up until that moment, my Dad had no idea that there really are no known limits to what a person with Down syndrome is capable of. He will never forget that woman and the bad assumption he made out of ignorance. And, I can tell you, he has never made any such assumptions with my boys. He has been one of my sons’ biggest advocates, telling everyone he meets, and anyone who will listen, what amazing and capable little men my boys are. At 77, he recently said he’s going to have to start taking better care of himself so he can stick around and see how wonderful they turn out. He also wants to know if there are any rules against someone with Down syndrome being in the major leagues having discovered that Brian can switch pitch and has a “killer knuckle-ball”. He’s sure if we hone in on his already accurate arm, he’ll be the first person with Down syndrome to play for the Yankees.