What Does It Mean When the Doctor Asks If My Son With Down Syndrome Is 'Thriving'?


I don’t like the word “thriving.”

The Oxford dictionary describes the word “thriving” as, “prosperous and growing; flourishing.” If you looked up the word in a thesaurus, synonyms include, “advancing,” “blooming,” “developing” and “doing well.” I am not yet sure what it means in the context of parenting kids with disabilities. The National Health Service website does not describe what they mean by “thriving,” but does explain “failure to thrive” means your baby is growing more slowly than other children of the same age.

I believe we are all unique and individual, which is why I struggle with the word. We have different shapes and sizes; we grow and develop at our own pace, even as adults. My son, Harry, has Down syndrome, and I’m not sure what doctors mean when they ask me, “Is he thriving?” I wonder if the question is somewhat different to what they mean when they ask parents of “typical” babies the same age as Harry.

I was recently asked, “Is he thriving?” and I must admit my first thought was, “Isn’t that your job to assess?” I’m hardly going to answer “no” to that question. When I think about my son thriving, I think of all the amazing things my child has accomplished. I am not focused on the delays or what other “typical” babies are expected to be doing at this age.

My answer to this question was very bland: “He feeds well and is growing nicely.”

What I wish I’d said was this: “He is amazing! He has a smile that lights up a room. He has a laugh that could melt a frozen heart. He has the most beautiful, expressive eyes. His hands have the softest, gentlest touch on my face.”

To me, the happiness of my child is as important as when it comes to his development. After all, isn’t that what having children is all about anyway?

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