The Moment I Saw How Others See My Sister With Down Syndrome


Being the oldest of three siblings, I naturally keep tallies — making sure my brother doesn’t eat the last Pop-Tart or that my sister doesn’t take all of my popcorn. Despite my attempts for food fairness in the house, other people have never seemed to see it the same way. Likely because my 12-year-old sister Jessie has Down syndrome.

Jessie knows everyone in our neighborhood and introduces us to random people wherever we go, prompting us to name her “the mayor” for her superior social life. But I’ve never seen it as anything special or extraordinary; it’s just Jessie being Jessie and other people reacting positively. 

Yet I wondered — why don’t people compliment me on my new dress or how I did at a swim meet? Why doesn’t the waitress at our favorite restaurant remember my name and my usual order? Because let me tell you, Jessie gets complimented. Jessie’s favorite meal of spaghetti with no sauce is remembered. This has always been the “Down-side” — the not-so-fun part of having a sibling with special needs.

But today was the day that I truly got it — the day I saw what made other people smile. As we walked along the boardwalk at the beach, we headed into our favorite sports store where we get our Baltimore Orioles fan gear. Jessie’s an all-around excited person, so going into a store with her favorite team’s paraphernalia was even more exciting for her. She perused, attempting to convince us to buy her shirts that were too small and hats that were too large. We finally made it to checkout with both a shirt and a hat (in the right size). She was happy to have gotten a shirt that matched mine and a hat that matched our brother’s. The sales clerk noticed and was all smiles as we approached. She made small talk with us, asking Jessie questions about how much she loved the Orioles. 

After we paid, the woman took out a sparkly Orioles bracelet my mom and I had been admiring.

“Hold out your arm,” she told Jessie and then fixed the clasp around her small wrist. Jessie’s face lit up like a Christmas tree as she exclaimed, “Oh my gosh!” The clerk beamed at her. While my mom thanked her a thousand times, the woman insisted it was no problem; she wanted Jessie to have it. 

And that is when I understood why other people treat Jessie the way they do.

Instead of seeing the “needs,” they see the “special.” And I couldn’t be happier about that.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 12.01.19 PM

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Related to Down Syndrome

The Things My Daughter Never Did as a Special Needs Sibling

“I don’t want her to move away, Mom. I’m gonna miss her.” I turned and looked back at my son as he attempted to hold back the tears that were beginning to choke him. “I know, buddy,” I murmured, hovering in my indecision, not knowing whether a comforting hug or words of affirmation would be [...]

How a Britney Spears Song Helped This Girl Recover From a Stroke

When Maegan Johnson was 7 years old, she had a ruptured brain aneurysm. She underwent a 10-hour brain surgery and couldn’t speak for six weeks afterwards, according to one of her Facebook posts. During recovery, cheerleaders, dogs and even clowns came to lift her spirits, but nothing seemed to make Johnson happy — that is, until she heard one of Britney [...]

Police Officer Goes Above and Beyond to Comfort Grieving Woman

Barbie Henderson was driving down Interstate 65 in Louisville, Kentucky, last week  when she received a phone call informing her that her sister had passed away, Wave 3 News reported. Henderson was hysterical with grief. She pulled over to the side of the road, and the first thing she thought to do was call 911. [...]

Dear Kids of Parents Who Have Bipolar Disorder

If you told me 10 years ago I would be writing about bipolar disorder on the Internet, I wouldn’t have believed you. I know having lived my childhood and coming out the other side as delightfully suburban average is nothing short of amazing. Now, I feel compelled to say something to those kids who want [...]