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When a Little Girl Asked, ‘What Does He Have?’

Normally the question in the title of this post can set my blood to boil, cause me great annoyance or turn me into a crying mess.  But on this particular occasion, the answer seeker was a little girl about 9 years old, and that has never happened to me before.

We were at the splash pad (AGAIN!), and Owen and I were hanging out in the lazy river tossing a pebble back and forth. I was getting him to practice his “uhhhh ppppp” since he wanted me to throw the pebble high into the sky.

The pavement was quite hot that afternoon since the sun was shining brightly. This little girl came walking by and said how hot her feet were — “It feels like they’re on fire!”  I told her I felt the same way — it was very hot. She sat down next to me, asking if we’d ever come here before. I explained that this was one of our favorite places.

Owen tossed the pebble, and it hit me in the leg.  I said, “Ouch!” and he immediately signed, “Sorry, Mom.”  The little girl asked me, “What did he just do with his hands?” I told her that he was using sign language and what he had said. She waited a moment and quietly asked, “Is he deaf?” No, I replied. “Is he autistic?” No, again.

She waited another beat — “What does he have?” I told her he has Down syndrome. “I’ve never heard of that!” she said. So I asked her if she knew about DNA, to which she replied that they learned about it in health class last year. I said that a person’s DNA is made up of lots of things including chromosomes and explained that everyone gets 23 chromosomes from their mom and 23 chromosomes from their dad, which equals 46. People with Down syndrome have 1 extra chromosome, so they have 47.

She nodded her head — “What does that extra one do?” A shitload I thought! But instead I said that sometimes it can cause people to have trouble with their speech or that they might need some extra help in school or that they might need to see a few more doctors.

She thought about that, and then said probably one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard a little kid say: “Oh, so he’s just like everybody else then?”

Yes, sweet girl, he certainly is!


This post originally appeared on The Sumulong 3: Our Family Journey Raising a Little Guy With Down Syndrome.