Learning lessons from challenges of others

95
Andrea Joseph

I’ll be the first one to stand up and say that I’m guilty of using the word “retarded” in jest, without thinking twice as it left my lips. But sometimes, in order to gain a new perspective, all it takes is knowing someone with challenges different from your own. That’s how it happened for me.
I’ll be the first one to stand up and say that I’m guilty of using the word “retarded” in jest, without thinking twice as it left my lips. But sometimes, in order to gain a new perspective, all it takes is knowing someone with challenges different from your own. That’s how it happened for me.

When I was a student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, I shared a dorm room with a food science major from Bakersfield named Angie, who patiently put up with my bizarre journalism-student deadlines. In return, I was patient with her boyfriend who would show up at our door and sometimes hang out in our small room while we studied. My relationship with both of them continued following our graduations, so much so that I was there when they were eventually pronounced husband and wife.

They now have two boys: Bryson, the chatty big brother who can melt me with a hug, and Ian, who made me eat my words the first time I held him.

Ian was born with Down Syndrome.

Since her youngest son’s birth in January 2010, Angie has become a foot soldier in the battle to educate the ignorant, sharing information about the condition to anyone willing to open their hearts and minds – and sharing her son, who can foster acceptance with a simple smile.

Although I’m in regular contact with Angie and her family, they crossed my mind recently when I realized that October is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

There’s currently a national campaign attempting to enlighten people on the “r-word.” “Spread the Word to End the Word” collects signatures of those who pledge to eliminate the derogatory use of it, and encourages inclusion of those with intellectual disabilities. While reading about the campaign, I came across numerous blogs naming several recent movies that use the word as a punchline.

I can’t say I’m shocked. Hollywood isn’t known for taking feelings into consideration when seeking out laughter.

Although I’ve never been one to be overly “PC” – admittedly, I sometimes wonder if we’re becoming too sensitive – there are certain things around which we should tread lightly. Or just not go there at all.

If society laughs, points or makes jokes about children who cannot defend themselves, who didn’t have a say when born with Down Syndrome, where do we draw the line?

I wish I had the answer. One thing I do know is that Ian and his mom have faced challenges head on and shown me the meaning of perseverance.

Ian has thrived in a loving home, where he’s given enough rope to explore and learn about his surroundings, but enough discipline to understand boundaries – just as his brother has. At nearly 21 months old, he’s finding success in an Early Start program, where he’s developing his motor skills and learning about music and socialization – things that every child needs to learn.

But every now and then, if we listen closely and feel deeply, adults can learn something, too. Maybe we learn a little about tolerance from someone with different views than our own. Or perhaps it’s a simple, quiet lesson on compassion and acceptance that comes along in the form of a sweet, smiling blue-eyed baby.

And although I continue to learn valuable lessons, there are simply some things I’ll never quite get.

Do I know what it’s like to be a mom who deals with the stares of strangers everyday, knowing some can’t see beyond that extra chromosome, can’t look into those eyes and realize that Ian’s a child just like any other?

No, I don’t. But I do know I can take a stand for him.

And really – even one person at a time – that’s all it takes.

 

The Buddy Walk was established in 1995 by the National Down Syndrome Society to celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month and promote acceptance. Join in the Silicon Valley Down Syndrome Network’s 7th annual Bay Area Buddy Walk Oct. 15 in San Jose. Details: www.buddywalk.org
To learn more about “Spread the Word to End the Word,” visit www.r-word.org.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here