After reading yesterday’s Down Syndrome Awareness post, is there anybody out there thinking I’m aiming too high for my boys with regards to their career choices… maybe you’re thinking some of those careers aren’t possible because my boys have been blessed with an extra 21st chromosome? Right about now, I’m like the most famous pritate of all in one of the boys’ favorite movies “Hook”… I’m playing out, in real life, the scene where Captain Hook asks his pirates who bet against him with regards to his ability to best Peter Pan. Hook says, “There is a stranger amongst us. Someone who does not believe. I will weed you out!” Believing is such a big part of mothering, of parenting. I’ve seen the damage parental disbelief can do (and a child does not have to have a disability to succumb). Learned helplessness is not pretty. Dependence and/or apathy is frustrating for everyone. And, it gets us all absolutely no where!
But, you ask, can my boys really be professional athletes or astronauts if they want to be? Like EVERY ONE else, if they have and/or can develop the talent, skills and knowledge for those professions… the answer is, YES THEY CAN! There are no specific requirements — intellectual or physical — that AUTOMATICALLY disqualify my children with Down syndrome from those careers. There are also no specific regulations that prohibit my children with Down syndrome from participating in those careers.
I find the most damaging limitations imposed on people with Down syndrome exist predominantly in the minds of those guiding and/or teaching them… In the minds of those hiring for whatever job position my brave little boys will choose for themselves. That’s my perception and the Reality!
In fact, I’m not aiming for any particular career at all for my boys. They will aim themselves through their natural talents and interests. I’m merely clearing the path… Planting seeds, nurturing their talents and weeding out the non-believers that get in their way.
Dr. Kathleen Feeley, a professor at CW Post college; co-founder of the Down Syndrome Advocacy Foundation (DSAF); and a local and renowned advocate for people with Down syndrome, lectures on this very topic. She says to begin now while your children with Down syndrome are young. Seek out through play and activities what their strengths and interests are. Aid them in developing their strengths and interests and then purposefully expose them to the “powers that be” in those areas within your community. I say, visit frequently with your child those places where their areas of interest and talent are practiced. Volunteer with your child for those powers that be. Familiarize the people in charge of the jobs in your child’s areas of strength with your beautiful children. Expose them to each other so that your child is a known and comfortable entity to them and vice versa. Then, when the time for employment comes, your child will be thought of as an able candidate for the job — in the mind of the person doing the hiring — instead of being automatically pre-judged and disqualified as a dis-abled person.
Our job as parents is to run interference. To clear the path in the minds of those people in power so they come to believe a different reality about our children with Down syndrome. The reality that my children — our children — with Down syndrome are capable of amazing things… Not the least of which is doing the job at hand. The job they have skillls and talent for. The job they have been aiming for all their lives….
Isn’t this pretty much what we want and should do for all of our children?
No, there is no job that is above or beneath doing. Not for me, my daughter or my boys. This is all about choices. Their choices. I am not saying that being a ball boy, gardener’s helper, cashier, office “go-fer”, house cleaner, fast food employee, church janitor or any other job choice isn’t good enough for my sons, my daughter, myself or for anyone else. No more than CEO, Astronaut or President of the USA is too good for them or any of the rest of us! A former employer of mine used to say, “It’s all about Choices!” Career choices are best made when you understand and pursue what you like to do, what you want to do and what you are good at doing. My boys are welcome to choose to sweep floors if that is what they want and love to do. They are also welcome to build the floors if that is where their skills and desires lie. Or, work for the companies that own or rent those floors in whatever capacity they choose. They can even run those companies if that is their passion and their choice!!! I have heard of, seen and/or know people with Down syndrome performing well in each of these career categories/levels. Jason Kingsley, co-author with Mitchell Levitz of “Count Us In”, is a highly successful business executive by all measures. And, Joe Steffy, a young man in Kansas City who has DS and Autism, started, built and manages his own very-successful (read: profitable) food production, sales and distribution company. How did they achieve their lofty goals? They had parents who believed in them, who helped clear the path for them. And they had interests and talents that aligned with the careers they chose.
What do you believe your child with Down Syndrome can do?
Believe. Plant the seed. Clear the path. Pave the way… to their success.