When I Started Eating Lunch With My Classmate With Down Syndrome
Differences surround us. They can define us. They can hurt and separate, shape us and inspire us.
In fifth grade, the last thing most people want to be is different.
That’s when I met Caleb, as we were waiting for the bus to take us home. Caleb was obviously ready for the school day to be over; he kept saying, “Bus, bus, bus.” I was unsure what to think at first, but I knew, much like me, Caleb wanted the day to be done. But that seemed to be where our similarities stopped. He was unlike most of the other fifth graders I knew.
Caleb has Down syndrome.
He spent most of his time in a different classroom than the rest of the other students. He often sat in a different section of the cafeteria. He spoke differently; he acted differently.
But our differences didn’t scare me. In fact, our differences brought us together.
Around this time, I became involved in the Adaptive P.E. program at school. The program was voluntary and allowed me to work with my peers with special needs. I definitely wanted to be a part of it. Not only did I enjoy the program, but I learned more about Caleb.
Every day at lunch, I would sit with him. I thought this would be tough at first, because I was unsure how to interact because of our differences. But it was actually fun. After lunch, I would walk Caleb to P.E., and we would play together. We would bowl. We would dance. We would laugh.
And I began to look forward to spending time with him.
Others didn’t understand what was on Caleb’s plate, like I did. Others judged him. They looked at him with strange faces. They excluded him from activities.
One day, at recess, this all changed.
Caleb and I ventured outside to play soccer together. I assumed the game would only be the two of us. But much to my surprise, all of the other kids joined us. And this time, no one judged Caleb. No one made fun of him. No one left him out. It was Caleb’s soccer game, and I stood in amazement and happiness when I noticed the other kids give Caleb the ball and let him score.
Caleb has taught me that it’s OK to be different. He’s reminded me to treat others the way I want to be treated. I know, without a doubt, he is out in the world somewhere, teaching others this same lesson.
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