When I Couldn’t Find the Words to Speak Up for My Brother With Down Syndrome


I sat at my own table, pretending to be engrossed in other things, while my classmates chattered, giggling like everything was OK. But the topic of discussion that filled those four walls that day made the room very dark in my memories.

I sat there alone in a room full of girls belittling people with Down syndrome. The discussion began with an actress who has Down syndrome who played a role on a famous television show. Giggly voices filled the dark room and their comments showed no kindness towards that actress, claiming her Down syndrome ruins the show entirely. Moving forward, to the general topic of their chatter, one girl expressed her inability to understand the reasoning behind G*d creating people with Down syndrome. The discussion went on with hurtful words that remain in my memory of that dark classroom.

And I sat there, watching my teacher, waiting for her to speak up. In those moments, tears journeyed down my cheeks sprinkling my notebook with disappointment — disappointment in those girls for their discussion that etched so much hurt in my mind, but even more so towards that teacher who kept quiet.

The difference between the silent me of the past and the outspoken me of today is that when I sat there crying to myself in the darkness of that classroom, I could not find the words to tell those girls that my brother, Chaim, has Down syndrome and explain to them how wrong they were.

Today, I keep that memory accessible in my mind where I can use that silent moment to push myself and stand up for Chaim in my day-to-day encounters. I couldn’t then, but I can now. I can stand up for the fact that people with Down syndrome work hard to be successful and make their place in the world.

I speak up in situations that constantly parallel those girls. The difference is: the people I tell now are older and seemingly more mature. Yet the echoes of that dark classroom find their way into today’s world despite the age difference. Perhaps it’s because of people like that teacher, who sat silently instead of teaching those girls about acceptance and the value of every person created. And so the situations I defend my brother in are generally filled with older versions of those who may never have been taught better.

Now I can speak up and say clearly: My brother Chaim has Down syndrome, and each year that goes by makes all of the difference in who he is and how much of an impact he makes in the world. Chaim, and every other person with Down syndrome, is not “worthless,” like those girls labeled him in the darkness of that classroom. But rather he is accomplished, and worthy of the life I believe G*d gave him.

I couldn’t then, but I can now.

girl and boy leaning on wooden desk
Arielle and her brother, Chaim.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. 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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