When I Question How Best to Celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month
I’ve questioned how to best celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month each and every year for the past nine years. Let’s face it, there is a lot to celebrate! It seems with every year and with each passing milestone, not only do I have so much more to celebrate with my son, but I also feel a greater desire to go back in time and shut down all the naysayers about what my son would or would not become, or what he could or could not accomplish. Like most parents of a child with a disability, I was told a lot about my son before I really got to know him. And many of the things I was told proved to be inaccurate.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve celebrated every October in all the usual and expected ways. I’ve posted things on Facebook, I’ve worn the shirts, handed out the books, written the letters and even talked to the classrooms. But the more Gavin and I grow, the less interested I feel in the entire process. Down syndrome can’t be fully showcased in a 30-day campaign. Having my son “included” and “accepted” is a way of life, a lifestyle, not a choice. It cannot be summed up in a Facebook rant, yard sign, or any other similar crusade. Telling the world what my son can accomplish is one thing, but showing the world is better.
I tend to expect everyone in our community and in our family to treat Gavin like any other 9-year-old boy. I expect him to be included and accepted in the community, in the school and on the sports teams. Will a classroom visit from me or a Facebook post really help him get there? I don’t know.
What I do know is that we are fortunate to be part of a school district that fully embraces Gavin, so he is genuinely included in the academics and culture of the school. I also know that I sign up Gavin for every club, camp and team possible for any 9-year-old boy. Gavin participates in community sports leagues, classes and camps, and plays at the neighborhood parks just like other children. He’s included in his community because I involve him — and that is the best way, in my eyes, to educate the world around us about his similarities, his abilities and his potential.
So yes, I do want to celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month this October. But I suspect my family will do it the same way we do every day — by living an inclusive life, accepting our differences while not highlighting them, and showing the world what Gavin can do, by example.