The First Time I Met an Adult With Down Syndrome
It was four days after I was discharged from the hospital.
We were gone, but our son, Anderson, was still there. We went to visit him in the NICU before going to church that morning. It was a particularly low time. Although we knew Anderson was one of the healthier babies in the NICU, it still wasn’t easy leaving this new little person behind. We were in a holding period. We were waiting for our lives to start as a family of four, but scared because we didn’t know what this new life would be like. How much would this Down syndrome diagnosis affect him? How much would it affect us?
We were looking to find strength and hope that morning from the pastor’s message. Instead, I found it sitting two rows in front of me. I looked up and I saw a young adult man with Down syndrome sitting with his dad. As creepy as it may seem, I moved up a row so I could be closer. I wanted to meet them.
Before the sermon started, I saw the young man point to a passage in the Bible and ask his dad about it. My husband Andy walked in at that point. I could tell he noticed the man right away, too. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
I noticed the crease in his hands looked like a straight line, just like my son’s. I noticed his eyes were shaped like almonds, just like my son’s eyes. I noticed he was a little smaller, just like my son.
It was time for the greeting. You know, the awkward point in church where the pastor says to stand up and shake each other’s hands. I normally hate this tradition, not because I’m anti-social, but because it feels forced. But this day it was the moment I was waiting for. I think I had my hand extended before the father-son duo was even able to stand. The son took my hand and said the quietest “hi” you can imagine. I was shocked.
When you tell people you are having a child with Down syndrome, they normally respond with, “They are the happiest people.” They’ll give you a list of characteristics people with Down syndrome possess: joyful, vivacious, outgoing — but this man was the opposite of these things. He was shy.
I sat down and I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. Wasn’t this syndrome supposed to give everyone it touched a dash of magic and sparkle? Wasn’t that the consolation to the fact that it’s a disability?
As I sat there in my own thoughts, I started to examine this man again. He had on slightly baggy and outdated jeans, just like his dad. He had black and neon green tennis shoes on, just like his dad. His face was kind and his handshake a little weak, just like his dad’s. And yes, he was shy just like his dad.
So, although he shared some physical similarities with my son, although my son may face similar challenges to him, they are their own people.
Down syndrome is just a part of who they are. It’s not who they are.
I believe Anderson, like this man, will be a product of his dad, myself and whatever other traits God gives him.
The band started playing again. The song was “Your Love Never Fails.” The bridge of the song goes like this: “You make all things work together for my good.” As I looked at this man and the apparent love between him and his father, tears started pouring down my face, and then Andy’s face. He felt it, too — we were thankful.
Thankful because this diagnosis that had rocked our world for months and made us feel as if the world we knew was ending is really just a part of our world. Down syndrome won’t define us, but we will learn, we will grow and we will be better because of it.
Thankful, because we knew the words we were singing were true: You make all things work together for my good.
A version of this post originally appeared on From News Anchor to Homemaker.