Because of my sky-is-the-limit attitude toward raising my boys, because the school they attend does not “specialize” in Down syndrome and because their “disability” is visible, I often find that other parents of children with special needs — frequently other than Down syndrome — chat openly with me about their experiences. Their children’s disabilities may range from mild speech delay to appraxia to Autism — anywhere and everywhere on the spectrum. In most cases, their child’s disability is initially invisible to others. That is, you do not know that the child has a disability until or unless you interact with him/her. Many of these parents say they get “the look” as the notion that something is “wrong” with their child seeps into the other mothers’ awareness and they begin to try and label the disability and determine the extent of affliction… without ever talking with the parent or interacting with the child.
My boys, on the other hand, wear their disability on their beautiful, smiling faces. Though they are mildly affected by their Down syndrome, everyone who sees them knows they have Down syndrome. Yes, I get “the look” too. But, I get it immediately… not after a parent has watched my child interact and has decided “something is wrong” with them via their behavior. As a matter of fact, I think if their disability was not visible, most people would not know there was anything “wrong” with my boys… except maybe a speech delay. Otherwise, my guys generally operate in the near-normal range of development. That is, they are at the low-end of the “typical” developmental curve or “borderline delayed”!
So, I want to talk about the prejudging that goes on when people first see my boys and recognize immediately that they have Down syndrome. You can almost here it “CLICK” in their brains… And, everything they think they know about Down syndrome, they’ve just applied to MY boys. Without a second glance and without ever interacting with them!
Even if you’ve been exposed to someone with Down syndrome — unless it’s recent exposure to a very young person — the chances are your impression of what’s possible in terms of development may be limited. Those who are born with Down syndrome today have a significantly different prognosis than those born just 15 years ago because of early intervention and mainstreamed treatment. Additionally, comparing my boys — not knowing their specific state of health, treatments or innate abilities — to anyone else with Down syndrome is inaccurate to say the least. There is a wide range of ability — both physical and mental — in people with Down syndrome. Applying your knowledge of one individual with Down syndrome to everyone else you meet with this genetic anomaly will invariably result in an inaccurate impression of the individual in front of you.
Prejudging a person with Down syndrome — or any disability — based on your experience or pre-existing knowledge is flawed thinking. Prejudging anyone based on what you think you know about them — their ability or disability – is prejudice. Like each of us, my boys only get one chance to make a first impression. And, I’ve found it’s sometimes hard for them to dig out of the hole some people put them in. What you see is not always what you get! Why not keep an open mind and let them WOW you with what they’re able to do — the way they’ve done with so many others — instead of assuming you already know them and all they’re capable of.