With just a simple gesture, a Ralph’s grocery clerk in Mission Viejo, California, made one mom’s day.

On Tuesday, the clerk named Sydney approached Mighty contributor Suzie Skougard and her 17-month-old daughter Carly. Skougard had met Sydney before — when she was pregnant with Carly, she’d make a point to wait in Sydney’s line, even if it wasn’t the shortest. “I wanted to [know] what Down syndrome would mean for my daughter as she got older,” Skougard wrote in a viral Facebook post. “What would her life be like? Would she be anything like this woman?”

Tuesday’s exchange helped her answer those questions.

“I have Down syndrome like her,” Sydney said, “and I have a big heart.”

“You definitely do have a big heart,” Skougard replied.

Sydney then asked if Carly knew any sign language. When Skougard said she did know a few signs, Sydney offered to teach her one more: “I love you.”

carly hugs baby with down syndrome

The moment left a mark on Skougard, who posted the picture above on her Facebook page Team Carly Jean:

I interacted with a lot of people at the grocery store. There was a woman who scolded me for not having shoes on Carly on a cold day, (she kicked them off), a clerk who was less than interested in helping me find an item, and an impatient person that shoved past because we were following behind an elderly gentleman that was moving slowly when they were in a hurry. 

Some people feel like people with Down syndrome don’t contribute anything meaningful to society, but amidst all the Grinches today, she stood apart. And just being her, she gave us an amazing gift. A smile. 

Skougard’s post was shared almost 3,000 times in four days. The response, she says, has been absolutely beautiful.

“I didn’t expect it at all,” she told The Mighty in an email. “So many people have written private messages about how they were inspired by the post and how they’ll take the time to interact more with those with disabilities when they encounter them in their day to day. There have also been messages from parents with a new diagnosis, and it’s been an incredible feeling to be able to pay it forward, give them words of comfort and help guide them toward resources like their local Down syndrome association.”

Skougard says Ralph’s has since contacted her and has plans to honor Sydney for her kindness.

“It just goes to show how a single kind act can spread and grow,” Skougard told The Mighty. “We were just the lucky ones to be on the receiving end of Sydney’s good graces.”

Have you seen the first film with a national release to star a person with Down syndrome? Check out the film “Where Hope Grows” today!

Available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes.


She turned my world upside down four years ago. In December 2011, we were preparing for the birth of our second daughter. We thought we were ready. We thought we knew what to expect.

All of the ultrasounds were OK. Besides the occasional, “She’s just measuring a bit small,” everything seemed fine.

We walked (well, ran but that is another story entirely) into the hospital that day. We had a baby four minutes later, while my husband was parking the car.

She was small, had a little button nose and noticeably almond-shaped eyes.

I remember my family admiring her. They were passing her around. “She looks like she has Down syndrome,” I said to the nurse. She gave me a look. I knew. “She has some characteristics; I will talk to you when everyone leaves.”

Nothing else needed to be said. I was devastated. She spoke with my husband and me. We cried. We knew.

The doctor wanted to do a blood test to be certain. It was ordered. Two weeks to wait. Two weeks of further terrifying myself on the internet.

People had kind words. They tried to help.

God won’t give you more than you can handle.

Children like that are only given to special people.

People with Down syndrome are so happy.

One nurse said, “You are so blessed. Take her home and love her.”

If a million tears could have changed her, I’m certain it would have happened then.

Each year as her birthday approaches, I get emotional. Thinking back on how upset I was, it is hard to remember. If I had only known.

On the day she was born, no one told me about the giggles, the hugs and the beauty. No one told me that she’d change my whole family. No one said she would melt the hearts of the strongest men I know.

little girl with down syndrome

No one said she will be the sunshine of your life. No one told me she’d be my greatest teacher.

I didn’t know anyone with Down syndrome. All I knew was fear. Stereotypes.

If I could go back to four years ago today, I would reassure my younger pregnant self of what was to come. Of course there are fears and worries, but the blessings far outweigh the difficulties.

She has changed a whole community with her smile. I have watched so many people change in her presence. She brings out the best in every person she meets.

Just because we are afraid, devastated and completely changed by a diagnosis and a moment, it doesn’t mean we can no longer grow.

Some of the most difficult moments in my life have brought forth the most powerful blessings. I’m thankful for the girl who turned my world upside down. I’m thankful for that devastating day that brought my family closer.

I’m thankful for how much I have learned about what is important.

Have you seen the first film with a national release to star a person with Down syndrome? Check out the film “Where Hope Grows” today!

Available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes. 

Alan Lawrence, the father and photographer behind the “Wil Can Fly” photo series, is back at it again, but this time with his youngest son.

Last spring, Lawrence, an art director who lives in Paradise, Utah, with his wife and six kids, started photoshopping images of his son Wil into settings that made it look like he was flying. Lawrence did it to show how Wil, who has Down syndrome, has limitless potential and is capable of anything.

Courtesy of Alan Lawrence

“As I started looking at these pics, I just thought, I know he’s going to be able to do anything he puts his mind to,” Lawrence told The Mighty in April. “He wanted to fly, and then there he was, flying. It’s an overarching message about all kids with Down syndrome. We feel like they can do anything they put their minds to.”

After the success of the “Wil Can Fly” Series (there’s even a calendar now) Lawrence turned his photographic skills on his youngest son, 4-month-old Rockwell. He started creating scenes with Rockwell dressed up as a real life “Elf on the Shelf” and causing all kinds of mischief around the house.

Courtesy of Alan Lawrence

“We have never had an ‘Elf on the Shelf’ in our home, but the idea has always intrigued me — parents letting elves in their homes to watch their kids and cause mischief,” Lawrence told The Mighty in an email. “Then one day someone told us that Rockwell looked like an elf and idea came to me. What if a real life elf came to live with us for the holidays and how would I react in real life to having it show up to live with us.”

Lawrence snapped this adorable photo of Wil and Rockwell the elf.

Courtesy of Alan Lawrence

Wil doesn’t resent Rockwell stepping in as the new photo series subject. In fact, he loves helping his father take the photos of his little brother.

Courtesy of Alan Lawrence

“We love sharing our families story. I just feel blessed to be a dad and want the world to know how fun it can be when you don’t take life so serious,” Lawrence told The Mighty. “Having kids keeps me young and allows me the opportunity to still act like a kid sometimes.”

See more photos of Rockwell as the “Elf on the Shelf” below: 

Courtesy of Alan Lawrence
Courtesy of Alan Lawrence
Courtesy of Alan Lawrence
Courtesy of Alan Lawrence
Courtesy of Alan Lawrence
Courtesy of Alan Lawrence
Courtesy of Alan Lawrence
Courtesy of Alan Lawrence
Courtesy of Alan Lawrence

Lawrence will be publishing new photos every day until Christmas. Follow the project on his blog, on Instagram or on his Facebook page, and get more from the Lawrence family on their YouTube channel

Everybody has an inner rockstar.

Elvis 03
Elvis, by Sherri Harnisch for NDSS

Photographers Wendy Zook, Sherri Harnisch and Nicole Starr worked with the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) to highlight just that in people with Down syndrome.

The photographers met up in New York City on Dec. 7 and 8 for a photo shoot. They were met with a team of makeup artists, hair stylists and more than 50 models ranging in age from 11 weeks old to 50 years old.

The models were assigned a music icon and then photographed in a way that evoked their inner rockstar.

Elvis Costello, by Wendy Zook for NDSS
Elvis Costello, by Wendy Zook for NDSS

Some of the photos will be turned into recreations of famous album covers that will be used as posters at the NDSS Spring Gala, the organization’s biggest fundraiser event of the year, held at the B.B. King Blues Club in New York City in March.

Usher, by Wendy Zook for NDSS
Usher, by Wendy Zook for NDSS

Both Zook and Harnisch have children with Down syndrome, and Starr is close with Zook’s children. All three photographers agree the shoot was a labor of love.

“It was such a joy, pleasure, honor and privilege to be a part of this amazing photo project,” Harnisch told The Mighty in an email. “Our family has advocated on behalf of legislative issues effecting people with Down syndrome on Capitol Hill several times as part of the NDSS Buddy Walk on Washington. NDSS has also empowered and equipped us to get involved on the state level. It felt good to have this opportunity to volunteer and give back in this capacity.”

nicole starr photography ndss elton john
Elton John, by Nicole Starr for NDSS

“For me it was really special on a personal and professional level,” Zook told The Mighty. “This really hit close to home and tugged at the heart strings a few times… it was so upliftng.”

Diana Ross 01
Diana Ross, by Sherri Harnisch for NDSS

“I want people to look at these images and smile,” Harnisch said. “It’s my hope that hearts are a little happier after seeing the joy and pride on the faces of our fabulous models, all of whom did an outstanding job working the camera.”

Marky Mark 01
Marky Mark, by Sherri Harnisch for NDSS
Adele 01
Adele, by Sherri Harnisch for NDSS

“I would love to have people look at these photos and walk away either with a more positive outlook on Down syndrome or special needs in general,” Zook told The Mighty. “I hope it brings joy and comfort, but I also hope that it will provide a more positive reminder of the great potential there is for all these individuals with special needs.”

See more of the photos from the Rockin’ NDSS Studios shoot below: 

Kelly Clarkson 01
Kelly Clarkson, by Sherri Harnisch for NDSS
nicole starr photography ndss bob dylan
Bob Dylan, by Nicole Starr for NDSS
nicole starr photography ndss tina turner
Tina Turner, by Nicole Starr for NDSS
Joan Jet 02
Joan Jet, by Sherri Harnisch for NDSS
nicole starr photography ndss KISS
KISS, by Nicole Starr for NDSS
nicole starr photography ndss KISS 2 (1)
KISS, by Nicole Starr for NDSS
Taylor Swift 03
Taylor Swift, by Sherri Harnisch for NDSS
Elvis, by Wendy Zook for NDSS
Elvis, by Wendy Zook for NDSS
nicole starr photography ndss madonna
Madonna, by Nicole Starr for NDSS

Last year at this time we were snuggling our cozy November baby. We were loving on his health despite him being born 18 days early. We were starting to swallow his staggering Down syndrome diagnosis and wrap our heads around the package of a new future. It was all going as well as can be expected when our newest addition started to seem grey. So, in the coldest of colds and the deepest of snow, I rushed him to his pediatrician who in turn rushed him to the hospital in an ambulance.

There we remained for 13 days: one day after his due date, through Christmas, through his 1-month birthday, right up until New Year’s Eve. We endured anguish as our baby boy became a teeny pin cushion and was diagnosed with respiratory syncytial virus and put on life support.

Here’s what I will miss about that hospital stay this Christmas.

10. The hospital food

Yes, I said the food. Midnight milkshakes became a comfort when the unknown was glaring. It was a chance to desert those four walls and our baby for just a moment. Instead, we would dash to the dining hall and decide what snack to eat. Relief came in the form of deliberating over something that just didn’t matter.

9. The abandonment of Christmas commitments

I was juggling the hustle and bustle with a new baby, and my “new normal” capsule was stuck in my throat. I was flailing. The hospital trip gave me an out. I said “Bah humbug” to Christmas cards, cookie cutting and perfectly wrapped presents. These values still stick to me like gum drops on gingerbread houses. Christmas “appearing” perfect is no longer on my list of things to do, but letting go of stress is. My goodness, it is freeing.

8. The holiday spirit in the hospital

The hospital takes on a life like the North Pole in spite of (or because of) what is happening inside. Snowman scrubs and Santa hats visited our room alongside holiday balloons and a giant stuffed dog with a cozy red scarf. There was a workshop of sorts, and we were persuaded to pick out a ridiculous amount of toys for our boys. Then volunteer elves begged to wrap them. It was electric. It was as if the people working there knew lives depended on spirit as much as medicine flowing through IVs.

7. The love of the little things that matter

Never once did I miss a party, card or the gifts that fill St. Nick’s sleigh. Instead, they were replaced with delicious goodies like friendly faces, crying hugs, a hot cup of real coffee, a smile, a hand to hold and a prayer to share. Those things mattered. They fueled us.

6. Family meals waiting for us in the fridge

During the holidays we all have our family’s go-to dish. Mine happens to be my mom’s chicken soup, served hot with smells swirling before the roast beef arrives. There are others from both my family and my husband’s. On Christmas you just can’t get to them all – because of time or because your pants don’t fit – but in the hospital, there they were in the fridge just waiting for us. They screamed home, normalcy and comfort. With a zap of the microwave, for just a moment everything seemed right in the world.

5. A united front of friends and family

Celebrations were celebrated without us. Santa still came on Christmas Eve and velvet warmed our loved ones. We missed it… but we were never forgotten. Our friends who are more like family took up a donation at their annual party as they kept us in their prayers. Raffle tickets were bought in our honor and doled out by loved ones who cared. My brother kept the mood light when he visited me on Christmas Eve and my own belly laughed like a bowl full of jelly. My in-laws sat vigil over our tiniest patient so we could attempt a normal Christmas morning with our 3-year-old , and a dear friend sat with my husband and me at the hospital on Christmas night.

We shared a couple of snuck-in brewskis as we spread giggles over our snug little bubba. I heard the bell ring last Christmas and I again believed in its magic.

4. Miracles in the making

Real, gift-giving angels disguised as nurses and doctors worked tirelessly to save my baby’s life. They spent their holidays with us. Many shared stories of their children with me and tirelessly watched over mine. I’d fall into a restless slumber as they peered over my darling’s crib and wake up to them doing the same. I was warmly greeted when I awoke and felt something missing when they briefly left to be with their real families. I have a new, shiny, Christmas-tree-topping respect for these angels who walk our earth and the miraculous works that they perform.

3. Tender, stolen moments with my husband

During our extended stay at the local ritzy pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), my husband and I had a luxury. He was on school break, so neither of us were working. One of us was always home with our 3-year-old while the other made camp with our ill infant. This left little time for us to be together. It also created precious fleeting moments when we were. These lingering, brief moments strengthened our bond and  taught us as much about our love for each other as they did about our strength. I would never trade these most personal minutes, and I wish life allowed us always to take such good care of each other.

2. Jesus

We know the story of Christmas, the story of Mary and Joseph and how there was no room at the inn. Somehow, Kris Kringle and twinkly lights overshadow the story of a special little baby born in Bethlehem. However, when your child is fighting to survive and you have nothing but time, waiting and faith, I believe Jesus becomes all that is important. I discarded the commercialized version of the holiday and was able to spend some real quality time with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It felt good, and it felt right. This year I have succumbed to Santa, Rudolph and tiny little elves for my 3-year-old. Don’t get me wrong, that feels pretty good, too. But I will always gratefully recall that one Christmas I spent in solitude with Emmanuel.

1. The gift of all gifts

Gifts are tricky. They are tricky to give and to get. More times than not I’ve gotten something I didn’t want, couldn’t use or didn’t need. I’ve also given gifts that were duplicates, didn’t fit or didn’t matter. So, it feels exhilarating to get something I really wanted. Something I wished for more than any Cabbage Patch Kids doll, roller skates or Easy-Bake Oven. The gift of life. That’s the best present under the tree.

So although I may be on the nice list this year, nothing can match last year’s gift and nothing ever will.

Follow this journey on Finding The Joy

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story about the holiday season related to disability, disease or mental illness. It can be lighthearted or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include an intro for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

I’m pretty sure Joseph was the first stepparent. He seemed to be pretty awesome. I would guess that on Christmas Day/Jesus’s birth, Joseph lovingly supported Mary, stepped up to the plate and did what needed to be done, like so many stepparents do.

If I could tell my husband, the stepparent to my child with Down syndrome, one thing during this Christmas season, I’d say…

Thanks for loving us.

Let’s be honest. Lots of parents love their kids, but I believe being a stepparent is a calling. It can take a special heart to love another child who is not biologically yours, because sometimes…

We don’t get to spend a lot of time together alone.

I can’t speak for all special needs parents, but the time I get to spend alone with my husband is limited. Between work, school and a limited number of sitters, date nights are few and far between. I apologize, but never once have I heard you complain.

I love that never once have you said, “What if?”

Since we said “I do,” you have never questioned or asked, “What if she is with us forever?”

My daughter is 13 and currently has multiple disabilities. I love that you never entertain my fear, but instead, help me plan soundly for her future.

Speaking of her future, thanks for helping me plan in general. 

I’ve been the single parent before — alone at IEP meetings, wondering what direction to take, or at the doctor’s office, questioning what the next step should be…

Do you know how beautiful it is to be able to consult with someone?

If I could tell my husband, the stepparent in our family, one thing (or a few things) this Christmas season, I’d tell you thank you for sharing our joy, and thank you for drying my tears. Thank you for always being patient, without complaint. Thanks for loving us in the good times, and the not-so-good times. You truly complete us.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us one thing your loved ones might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness during the holidays. What would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Real People. Real Stories.

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