GREENVILLE – Memories are funny things sometimes. When I was a freshman in high school, my dad and I moved to Cincinnati. The change going from a small village school to a city school was extremely overwhelming. I made friends with a sweet girl and while visiting her home, I noticed a baby perched in a walker in a lower level living room. He was completely alone, in the middle of the room. I wanted to go see the baby like any young teenage girl would. My friend quickly said, “Leave him alone, we don’t mess with him, he has Down Syndrome.” At that time in my life, I had no idea what Down Syndrome was, all I knew was a huge sense of sadness for this little boy who was left all alone.
This memory resurfaced recently as I pondered Down Syndrome Awareness Month. He would be in his 30’s now. I can’t recall my friend’s name, or the name of the school we went to, but I remember this baby sitting all alone, unloved. As I look at my daughter Chloe, I cannot imagine feeling anything but love towards her. She lights up everything and everyone. At 6, she still has some verbal delays, but her comprehension of what is being said to her is complete. There are no limits to her abilities as she masters each one in her own time. The only limitations for our children are the ones that we or others set for them out of ignorance.
Recently we attended a birthday party where some of the children asked me how old Chloe was. When I responded that she was 6, they were surprised. One little guy said he thought she was 4 because of the way she spoke. As I explained to the kids what Down Syndrome was, they seemed to not really care one way or the other. Play time went on as it had before, with her right in the midst of it all. I have found that if children have an understanding of the differences in another child, they are much more accepting than their adult counterparts.
As we approach the end of October, I want to leave an impression with people on how important is to be accepting of others differences, whatever they may be. As parents of Down Syndrome children, we take pride in our kids. We have found a kinship with one another that just exists from merely making eye contact as we pass each other. It is the knowing that we have been given an extraordinary gift, which has changed our lives for the better. These little people have a love that surpasses all understanding, an effervescent personality that bubbles over to everyone if they allow themselves to receive it. Don’t shortchange yourself, like the family 30 some years ago. Be open to all differences and embrace them lovingly as these precious children do every day.