How My Daughter With Down Syndrome Breaks Down Barriers Without Words


Turned out nice again.

If there’s one topic of conversation we Brits do well, it’s the weather. I sometimes wonder what on earth we would talk about if our weather was always the same. Without it, I fear we would never talk to anyone ever again!

Picture the scene: a busy post office in a suburban town in the U.K. A queue (line.) Oh we do those well too, us Brits. Queues. Usually in silence and often impatiently, avoiding eye contact and hoping no one invades our personal space. These are unspoken rules of being British, and if you are a visitor to these shores or have made your home here, you will have possibly been on the receiving end of one of our glares or tuts of disapproval if you dared to get any of this wrong. Please accept our apologies if this has happened to you. We don’t mean to be so rude. At least I don’t think so.

But you are not alone. My daughter Hazel, who has Down syndrome, hasn’t learned those rules either. And I hope in some ways she never does.

As we took our place in the queue, me standing and Hazel in her wheelchair with shiny bright pink wheels, waiting our turn, she pretty much broke every one of them. Firstly, she cheered as we went in, hands waving frantically. Everyone turned and stared at us.

Shh, they said, not actually saying a word.

Then she laughed. Giggled. At what, I have no idea. Maybe the fact that there were lots of people all standing there saying nothing at all was very funny. It is,
if you stop and think about it.

The Post Master definitely smiled; I caught his eye from my place in the queue.

“Cashier number two please.” Two more still in front.

Then there was a commotion behind us, the whir of an electric wheelchair. Not pink and pretty, but cumbersome and clunky. The silent, staring, glaring faces turned again, then turned quickly back for fear of making eye contact with its occupant. He held a letter in one contorted hand, control stick in the other.

Fear. More silence, if there is such a thing as more silence when you already have silence. Perhaps relief that they were ahead and not behind.

I moved my daughter’s pink wheels to make room in the cramped waiting area for his black ones. As I did, she broke another rule. Or was it a barrier? She reached out her hand and placed it on his knee. And in a second the rule was broken, the barrier lifted.

“Hello, how are you?” he said, his voice as shaky as his hands.

She didn’t answer. She can’t. Yet. But she spoke louder and more clearly than all the articulate people in the post office put together.

The Post Master smiled. So did the other customers. One stepped forward to help our new friend put his letter on the counter. Another turned and spoke to Hazel, admiring her pink wheels.

Silence broken. Lines of communication opened.

As we left the post office, our electric-powered friend was already halfway up the road. There was no stopping him. Though I’m sure there are plenty more barriers he will have to face. As will we, but at least for now, in her 5-year-old
world, Hazel has no idea those barriers even exist.

Turned out nice again.

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Thinkstock photo by Ryan McVay.

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