NFL player Brandon McManus spent a day in November of 2014 playing catch with an 11-year-old boy with Down syndrome, and it changed his life. Inspired, the Super Bowl champ has now founded an organization to tackle bullying.

Boy with a Bronco's shirt on

Home video shows 11-year-old Ryder Braden playing ball with McManus, the kicker for the Denver Broncos. Ryder was being bullied by neighborhood kids when his mom reached out to the Rocky Mountain Down Syndrome Association for help. The organizers had the idea to reach out to McManus, as Ryder is a huge Broncos fan, Fox 31 Denver reported.

McManus showed up at Ryder’s house, and, wearing his Broncos gear, played catch with Ryder in the front yard where the whole neighborhood, including the boys who’d been bullying Ryder, could see. Hillery Braden, Ryder’s mom, said he gained confidence from the encounter.

Their interaction also left a lasting impression on McManus, who later started the Anti-Bully Squad, an organization that takes a stand against bullying through education, awareness and prevention.

“I’ve played in big football games in my career, but just seeing his smile on his face and his mom’s face, it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever [done] in my life,” McManus says in the video below.

McManus’s Anti-Bully Squad is still in its early stages, but McManus, and his childhood friend who he started the organization with, hope to see it grow.

Get more on the story from the video below:

 


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.

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I remember the day I met you. You were a baby, and my 5-year-old self was intrigued by how small the palms of your hands were and how your eyes wandered to each of us. I always wondered what was going on in your head. I know for sure your baby self wasn’t thinking about the tremendous impact you would have on your cousin Anna’s life. In fact, my 5-year-old self had no clue how much you would teach me. You would influence my views on life and teach me of a love so strong that I didn’t know existed.

It doesn’t take much at all for you to put a smile on my face. In fact, seeing you stand in the doorway as you arrive at family parties all dressed up to perfection is enough to make me feel an overwhelming sense of happiness. You always do the best out of everyone at making your rounds, saying “hello,” and of course giving hugs and kisses. I hope you know these small acts don’t go unnoticed. You make each and every one of us feel special and important. You have your inside jokes with all of us and your curiosity leads to some of the best relationships. It amazes me to see the special connection you have with each of us, and it makes me hope I can have just as large of an impact on everyone I meet.

I rarely see you without a smile on your face. What amazes me is how quickly you manage to get yourself together, put that smile back on your face and be a trooper. Whatever the scenario may be, anything from a meltdown to finding out your cousins off at college won’t be at the family party, you manage to accept the bad and move on. Now when I get upset for whatever reason, I remember what you would do. Accept the bad and move on.

I can recall a day when we were together with our families. I wasn’t feeling like myself, but I shrugged it off and tried to make the best out of the family time I had. It wasn’t unusual for me to feel this way considering I occasionally get into “funks” due to my depression. I went about that night trying to distract myself from how I was feeling. I laughed and smiled, but I wasn’t able to shake it off altogether. I felt alone, and nobody noticed anything was wrong. You and I shared a chair in the family room as the rest of our family sat around the dinner table exchanging stories.

Out of nowhere, you looked me in the eye and asked “What’s wrong?” It left me speechless. You knew something wasn’t right and you expressed your concern to me when I did everything possible to hide it. Right then and there, I realized nothing was wrong. I may be in a funk, but I was surrounded by the ones I love most. That night, you gave me an extra hard squeeze when we hugged goodbye. You taught me to love unconditionally and to always keep my eye open for when a loved one may need me most.

Thank you for teaching me lessons I can’t learn from a textbook. Whether I need a laugh, somebody to get my mind off of life’s stressors, a shoulder to cry on or whatever else, you are there. Your unconditional love and bubbly personality go a long way, and you have impacted my life more than I could have ever imagined.

woman and boy in front of tree
Anna and her cousin, Matthew.
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. 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.

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.

It was 8:30 on a Monday morning when my partner Keston and I got a call that would forever change our lives. The doctor got straight to the point. “The baby has Trisomy 21,” he said. He was talking about the baby I was carrying as a surrogate.

“Positive for Down syndrome?” I asked.

“Yes.”

It was out now, but I wasn’t surprised. Just days earlier the doctor had told us he suspected something. And we had opted for genetic testing.

Then the doctor added, “And it’s a girl,” and shortly thereafter hung up.

I took this especially hard because we had gone through so much to make this baby, and she was my biological child. I felt guilty and responsible, even though logically I recognized I had, had no control. I gave a heartbroken sob, but I knew I didn’t have time. The intended parents were waiting, just as we had been a few minutes earlier. I picked up the phone to call them.

The four of us wondered what would this mean? We agreed that a meeting with the genetic counselor surely would be able to answer that question. So I quickly scheduled a meeting for the next day.

Anxious for answers, we intently listened to the genetic counselor. She began with explanations on chromosomes and followed up with a slew of medical complications the baby “would likely suffer from if she didn’t pass away on her own.” She had no answers about medical advancements, no real-life scenarios, no support networks or resources for us. The intended parents felt hopeless.

Keston and I understood, but we felt there were still too many questions that went unanswered. If we could not get the answers to our questions from the genetic counselor, we would branch out on our own and find some. We spent hours online researching. We contacted and visited our local Down syndrome organization.

Things weren’t as bad as we had been led to believe. We saw hope!

As we found the answers we needed, we urged the intended parents to search as well, but they chose to walk away.

But Keston and I believed in the baby girl who had already beaten some incredible odds. We decided if she was meant to pass away as the doctors predicted, she would on her own, but we wouldn’t take her chance at life away. Instead, we would become her protectors and advocates. We would be her Moms.

And she not only survived, but thrived!

We chose to be proactive. We researched and enrolled our daughter in early intervention therapies, which started at 2 months of age. And now three years later, against doctor expectations, we have an adorable and feisty toddler named Delaney Skye, who is developmentally ahead or on target.

Andrea Ott-Dahl

When I look back on our meeting with the genetic counselor, I wish she would have told us what I am about to tell you:

It’s going to be OK. There are things you can do to help your child thrive. You can do this. Sure, there will be moments when life is consumed with doctor and therapy appointments, and yes, your child may need to work hard for everyday tasks.

But with your commitment, your child will also grow and flourish and defy expectations. Your child will fill you with more pride and love than you ever imagined. Your life and the lives of those around you will be so much richer with a child like Delaney.

Because if I knew all the things that I know now, I would have never shed a single tear because Delaney is perfect just as she is!

Andrea Ott-Dahl is the co-author of the memoir, “Saving Delaney.” She and her partner, Keston Ott-Dahl live in the San Francisco area with their 3 kids and are well known activists and bloggers in the Down syndrome community.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: What’s one secret about you or your loved one’s disability and/or disease that no one talks about? 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 recently read a comment on a photo of a child who had Down syndrome. The comment read, “You don’t look like Down syndrome. You look like your momma and poppa.”

That comment shot me in my heart. It went on to say, “I used to feel sorry for parents who have children with Down syndrome because they won’t get to experience the excitement of their children looking like them.”

What? 

Please don’t feel sorry for me or any other family. I promise if you open your eyes and heart, you will see that our kids don’t just “look like Down syndrome.” My son has his brother’s hair. I see his eyes in his siblings and me. His hands resemble his dad’s. His attitude is from his mom, and to me his smile is brighter than the Bermuda sun. I don’t want you to see just Down syndrome. Please open your eyes and see our kids with their siblings and parents. You will learn something. You will also learn that we are not sorry and we don’t want pity.

“Oh, that poor mom.” “Oh, that poor kid.”

No!

Those kinds of comments make me stop and think of what I have ahead of me when my son goes to school. Will his friends only see his diagnosis? I hope not!

Please look past his diagnosis and know he is happy and his family is happy. Our family is just like yours.

mom with young boy, two teenage boys and teenage girl
Tanya and her children.

A version of this post first appeared on Life After Down Syndrome.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and 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. 


Small girl with pigtails holds adults' hand and smiles, while looking off to the side This just might be our favorite Super Bowl commercial this year.

SunTrust, an American bank holding company, has released an ad that includes a girl with Down syndrome and a man who uses a wheelchair. Both only appear for a few seconds, but it’s nonetheless a step for inclusion in the media.

See the SunTrust ad below:

That girl, Cora Slocum, is no stranger to the spotlight. The 4-year-old from Martinez, California, was also featured in an August 2015 back-to-school ad campaign by a children’s shoe company called Livie & Luca. The company picked Cora for their advertisements after working with the nonprofit Changing the Face of Beauty.

Changing the Face of Beauty is an organization founded by Katie Driscoll, a photographer and mother of six, including a daughter with Down syndrome. She decided to take action after failing to find advertisements showing kids with disabilities. Now, she’s a mom on a mission to get companies to include models of all abilities in their campaigns.

Cora was a natural on set filming the commercial, and her mother, Kerri Slocum, says the crew were fond of her and impressed with how quickly they got the shot.

“She has a very agreeable nature and seems to enjoy having her picture taken and follows direction really well,” Slocum told The Mighty via email. “She has a natural ability to connect with people and her joy is contagious.”

Photo of Cora in the Livie & Luca ad campaign
Photo of Cora in the Livie & Luca ad campaign, courtesy of Livie & Luca / Priscilla Gragg
Photo of Cora in the Livie & Luca ad campaign
Photo of Cora in the Livie & Luca ad campaign, courtesy of Livie & Luca / Priscilla Gragg

“The Super Bowl is probably one of the most important events of the year for television advertising — it sends a message to the world communicating what is important to retailers for the year,” Driscoll told The Mighty in an email. “Seeing a child and an adult who represent the disability community included in that advertising sends the powerful message ‘we see you and you matter,’ and that is what we at Changing the Face of Beauty ask for every day.”

Last year another little girl with Down syndrome, Grace Ramsburg, who was 8 at the time, made a commercial appearance on Super Bowl Sunday. Grace and her family were selected to be a part of a one-minute McDonald’s TV ad.

Go here to learn more about Changing the Face of Beauty and Super Bowl ads involving people with disabilities.


To set the stage for a letter that I cherish like religion, I must give you some background information. Before my son Judah was born, I became convinced he had Down syndrome. Despite doctors disagreeing, ultrasound technicians “not seeing anything” and family and friends wondering if I needed help for my anxiety — I knew! Credit to my husband here — he never once wavered in his belief. In fact, he advocated for me.

So when our son was born three weeks early on the cusp of December, nerves cloaked me like an overcoat. A dear friend joined us as one of the nurses in the delivery room. When my baby came into this world, I asked, “Are you sure he’s OK?” She answered with the warmest eyes, sincerest soul and kindest smile, “Yes.” When I was finally able to see my baby, I saw his calm, closed eyes and I knew my son had Down syndrome.

A great deal of pain and fear shared our hospital bed. But it didn’t last long. Only weeks later, I would be sharing and writing and advocating like a momma bear. I replaced pain with education and fear with faith and love. I was reading a book called “Bloom” by Kelle Hampton. She had a beautiful little girl named Nella who shared my son’s extra chromosome. She told how on Nella’s first birthday, she was going to return to the hospital room where she was born. As I held my tiny son, I vowed to do the same.

newborn baby sleeping
Judah as a newborn.

On Judah’s first birthday, my nurse friend arranged it so that my husband, Judah and I could be reacquainted with the room that gave us such joy and pain. She met us at the door and weaved us to our old delivery room. As she did, she told us she had a surprise: The nurse who helped deliver both my sons was there, too! She wanted to be there for the revisitation. As we walked and talked, my friend told me how this nurse thought it was a sign of adoration that I cried — that I was so worried for my baby, so concerned about his health and future that tears fell out of love.

But here’s the kicker: Not one of those tears fell in Judah’s honor. I cried for me. I welled up with fear others wouldn’t love us. I sobbed because I thought I should’ve had “the test.” What does that say about me? So, it didn’t matter how passionately or how quickly the love grew. All I could conceive as we walked was, “My God, I am a monster” — until I got the letter.

typed letter on white paper
The letter from Beth’s friend.

After a short reunion in the hospital room, the welcomers trickled out. They left us to absorb all the feelings about returning. As my friend turned to leave, she handed us a bright yellow envelope. Then, just us three squeezed onto the bed, the way we all snuggled just a year before, and I opened that envelope and I read. I read and saw through a different set of spectacles, with a new set of eyes and with an exhale that uttered relief. I was not the horrible person I believed myself to be. The part of the letter that dissolved me:

“From the perspective of those privileged to be in attendance during his beautiful birth, you and [your husband] Bobby and Judah were a perfect trio in that room.

For you see, as nurses, we too have our vault of secret memories that we wish we could “re-do” for the families we care for. And for some, just erase all together. The heart-wrenching silence of a delivery when parents know they will never hear a cry; the indifference of a father who hardly looks up from his phone or lifts his head from a pillow, despite the pleading eyes of his once-girlfriend… only to walk out of the delivery room and most likely his baby’s life forever; or the emergency deliveries attended by NICU staff using every skill possible in order to resuscitate a tiny fragile one, while we simultaneously pray there won’t be long-term effects on this new life… Those deliveries. Those are some of the ones in our re-do pile.”

The part that saved me:

“… Deliveries like Judah’s are a “do again.” Judah arrived to a room spilling over with your love. And I don’t want that to sound horribly cliché, because that love was so essential. I wasn’t lying when you asked me if he was OK. Even if I had the insight that you had of his extra chromosome or was given the benefit of retrospect, I would honestly again answer “yes.” In that snapshot of time he was pink and cuddling skin-to-skin with you. I promise you he only felt love as he listened to the comforting sound of his mother’s heartbeat. That moment was a genuine gift.”

And the part that spoke to me:

“… in that moment, you weren’t sure if the heart he heard beating could handle what you knowingly suspected. It was normal for you to be suspicious of what lied ahead. Of course, if we could have done it for you, we would have barricaded the delivery room door to those unwanted visitors… Fear, Doubt, Sadness, Guilt, and their awkward friends who eventually showed up… Silence and Says-the-wrong-thing. But, as you’ve said before, those bullies had to come in and cause their ruckus and pain, but thankfully their once presence is insignificant now in the greater picture.  They did their job of helping you evolve to boldly say, ‘Yes, I’d do it all again.'”

Yes! I was never indifferent to my baby. I never looked at him with disdain. I was in emotional anguish, yes. I felt sorry for myself, that I cannot deny. But now? Now he is alive and well and I am captivated by the way this little wonder has morphed my soul.

And, as my treasured letter so clearly exclaimed, there was something in the room the day my son was born, something grand.

mom, dad and baby sitting on hospital bed
Bethy, her husband Bobby, and their son Judah.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell a story about a time someone helped you and/or your child when you needed it most. 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.

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