Down Syndrome and Autism: Unlocking the Potential


When your child has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism, the game changes. Speech may be limited or a child may be nonverbal, which could lead to behavior problems. Sensory issues can be extreme and interfere with social interactions and learning.

My son, Nick, is 23 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism. His speech is limited, and he is a sensory seeker. Over the years, with the help of some amazing teachers, therapists and autism behaviorist specialists, he has developed skills which have allowed him to contribute at work in his adult day-program, and here at home.

So how do you find the key to unlock your child’s potential?

The key lies in identifying your child’s strengths and working to build upon them.

First of all, just because my son’s speech is limited doesn’t mean he can’t communicate. One of Nick’s assets is his receptive language, which is the ability to understand information. Many of his goals in his Individualized Education Plan (IEP), were planned around using this strength when he was in school. Nick was able to develop skills to become more independent in self-help and other jobs at home and school. These skills were enhanced by using educational materials and supports written into his IEP. Such materials included a Picture Exchange Communication System book (PECS) with training for staff, parents and child; Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) devices; task strips; social stories; a picture schedule; video modeling; a reward system. All of these supports helped Nick navigate his routine and built upon his functional and independent livings skills.

Besides his receptive language, Nick’s other strengths are his desire to please and take the initiative. He is a taskmaster! When Nick was younger, his teachers pointed out how good he was at matching. A lot of his goals were structured around this.

Nick has always had a keen eye and notices where everything goes around the house. Anytime the batteries died on one of his musical toys, he would go to the kitchen drawer, pull out the screwdriver and hand it to me with the toy. As he grew older, I recall him nudging his older brother over to help unload the dishwasher. He knew which cabinet every single plate, cup, pot, pan and utensil were stored. Shortly thereafter, I let him take over the chore (with no complaints from his older brother, Hank).

 

Using his strength of taking the initiative, we have built upon this to create other jobs at home and in the community. When he was in school, his teachers recognized his sensory seeking needs and channeled them by doing “heavy work.” An occupational therapist can assist with ideas to implement a sensory diet into your child’s routine. Nick likes to throw and swipe things (and still does). It has helped to find activities with heavy work or ones that mimic this sensory need.

Here are a few of the jobs that does:

  • Recycling (replacement behavior for throwing).
  • Can crushing (sensory and motor activity and replacement behavior for throwing).
  • Carry laundry basket and load the washing machine (heavy work/organizing).
  • Put away groceries (organizing activity).
  • Empty dishwasher (organizing and sensory activity).
  • Cleaning/wiping down countertops and windows (organizing activity).
  • Vacuuming (heavy work which is calming).

There is so much your child can learn when you identify their strengths and unique talents. When you find what motivates your child, you can build and expand upon it. Work with your child’s IEP team, therapists and autism specialist, to identify those areas. Then together, as a team, create a plan with specific and measurable goals that will enable your child to grow and be successful. Unlock your child’s potential, and watch them soar!

 Follow this journey at Down Syndrome With a Slice of Autism.

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Charley on the new bike with Trevor standing by his side.

When My Son's Friend, Who Also Has Down Syndrome, Gave Him a Bike


For the longest time, Charley has been bugging us to get him a bike. Like every five minutes.

It started around Christmastime.

“Mom, I want bicycle,” he’d say.

“It’s winter. No one rides in the winter,” I’d say.

“Oh, I do.”

I’d open the blinds, “In the snow?”

“Yup.”

“Not happening,” I’d say, and he’d stomp up the stairs. I could hear him in his room saying, “Mom said no.”

Then spring came along. Enough time to forget about the bike. Thank you, Lord. Or was it? Every time we passed a bike in a driveway. Every time a bicycler passed us on the road, he’d point, “I me one.” (Charley may have speech challenges, but never fails to communicate.) And I do mean, every single time.

“Mom, remember, I want bicycle,” he said one morning. Thanks a lot, Lord.

“Maybe someday,” I said. But probably not. Again, he’d stomp, “Mom said no. Again.”

Did Charley know how much these things cost? Not that we wouldn’t spend the money on him, but the last time we bought him a bike his foot got stuck in one of the spokes. He fell off, kicked it and said, “It no work.”

He never got back on.

I reminded him of that. “Charley, we can’t just go buy you a bike. Everybody knows you’re supposed to get right back on the horse.”

He looked around, “What horse?”

“It’s a figure of speech, Son. It means when you fall off the bike you have to get right back on. You can’t just give up.”

He nodded his head, “Pleeeeaaaassseee. I promise.”

“We can’t just go buy it. We have to save up.”

“Woohoo!” His enthusiasm was contagious. So much so I found myself at Dick’s Sporting Goods looking at the bikes.

A sales associate approached me, “May I help you?”

“Yes, I’m looking for a bike.”

“Who’s it for?” she asked.

“My son.”

“These are the girls’ bikes.” she said.

She was right. I was standing there looking at the girls’ bikes. “Think one of these would fit me?”

“Sure, hop on,” she said and held the bike.

Steady now. Just hop on the bike. A little jump. There you go.

“Go ahead,” she said, “just a small hoist.”

She’d obviously not noticed the size of my rear end. “There’s no such thing as a small hoist,” I said. She tried not to smile, but I saw the curves of her lips.

“I’m trying to see if I can get a bike to keep up with my son. He just got a three-wheeler.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“Honest, I really want to do this.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“I’m a little challenged. You see, I shattered my femur a few years back, and…”

“Yes Ma’am.”

I had one leg over the seat (well, partially). And one leg still on the ground.

“I’ll hold the bike, don’t worry,” she said.

“Don’t let me fall.” The bike wobbled.

Any minute now…

She looked at her watch.

“Lunch time?” I asked. Please say yes. Please say yes. “Um, yes Ma’am.”

Would you stop calling me Ma’am? What do you think I am, 95? No wonder I can’t get my rear end up onto this stupid thing. 

Need I tell you I came home without the bike? And worse, I came home without even getting on the bike.

Charley met me at the door.

“Mom, where were you?”

“Nowhere.”

“You got my bicycle yet?”

“Maybe sometime, but not today.”  Epic “F” in athletic parenting 101.

Later that week I told my sister about it, “Marcy, I’m thinking about getting a bike. I saw one on the yard sale site.”

I studied her face across the FaceTime screen.

“If I promise not to get one will you stop laughing?”

Every day Charley followed me around, “I promise. I promise.”

What was he promising? I have no idea. That he wouldn’t kick the bike? That he’d keep his foot out of the spokes? That he wouldn’t abandon the attempt to learn?

As luck would have it, he stopped asking. Problem solved.

This ranks right up there with: how naive I can be?

How long has he been my son? How long have I lived with that 21st chromosome? The one that operates like a diehard battery? Going on 27 years now? Silence means one thing: he’s concocting some plan to make me cave.

Just when I thought that subject was a done deal, there was a knock on the door. It was the neighbors, asking if Charley wanted to come across the street and play basketball. Thank you Lord. New friends. It’ll take his mind off the bike.

“Charley’s going to play basketball with Amanda, Shane and the girls,” I told my husband, Brad.

A few minutes later I looked out the window and what do you think I saw? My adult son on the little girls’ tricycle. And there, right beside him, were the neighbors. Walking down the street with my son as he attempted to pedal a bike meant for a 4-year-old. Needless to say, it was a little top heavy.

“We gotta get him a bike,” I told Brad. I posted about it and asked if anyone knew where we could get an adult tricycle. A half-hearted attempt at best.

That’s me, the one hiding behind the computer. Mother of the year. I’d done my part. At least I tried, didn’t I? At least we wouldn’t be chasing him around on some bike. I stand accused of being a little overprotective. OK, not a little. A lot. Point taken.

The next day rolled around, “Mom, you got my bike yet?” His face lit up with anticipation.

He had that same look on his face he had when he was determined to take his friend Jordan to the prom. I told him it probably wouldn’t happen. Still, he insisted, “Oh yes I are,” he said. Little did I know it was Jordan who invited him, not the other way around. The next thing I knew, he was in a tux. The man doesn’t give up. Ever.

“No, Charley, I didn’t get a bike yet. Let’s talk about it later, OK?”

His scrunched grin wilted, “My friend got a bicycle,” he said, his voice dropping a few decimals, referring to the neighbors and their pigmy-sized little three-wheeler. Like, geez, Mom and Dad, you guys just don’t get it.

“Forget about it, Son. Now I have spoken. Drop it. It’s not happening.” Lord, he’s wearing me out.

That settled it. We needed to get him a bike. But how? How do we do the impossible?

I sat down in my recliner and flipped open my iPad. Time to look at the newsfeed. To see what was what. And what do you think I saw?

A message from our friend Jackie at church, who said her friend Trevor saw my post and wanted to give Charley a bike.

Could this be? Someone would do this for our son? Someone he didn’t even know? Someone we’d never met?

Now. Before I go any further, I must tell you; it wasn’t the only offer. Our friend Tina from Knoxville saw the post, too. Two offers of getting a bike for Charley. I nearly fell out of my chair. People are so generous. There’s a reason I walk around with a lump in my throat.

Before I knew it, Trevor made a house call accompanied by his mom and dad and an adult sized tricycle in the back of a truck.

Charley had no idea. It was Trevor’s surprise. And it was not just any bike, it was his bike. He’d learned to ride a two-wheeler, and told his mom about Charley.

Charley on the new bike with Trevor standing by his side.

Every day Charley runs downstairs and says, “I go on my bicycle?” And every day he pedals his way around the neighborhood. And then again and again. And just like that, Charley is a big deal on wheels.

Yesterday during my husband’s sermon he was talking about Ecclesia, which means “to go out.”

“That is what we are called to do as a church,” he said. “To go out. Not to keep to ourselves in a building, but to take the church out of the building.”

As I sat there listening to him, I thought about Ecclesia and the people I’ve known over the years who know how to go out. Those who take meals and communion to those who cannot come to the church. Those who make home repairs for the elderly, and visit the sick in the hospital. There are a lot of ways to practice Ecclesia.

Sometimes it directly benefits the church, and sometimes it’s just a gesture. It’s church. It’s what you do. Any way you look at it, to practice Ecclesia is to do what God asks us to do.

I thought of Trevor and how he said Jesus had put it on his heart to give his bike to Charley.

How is it that we’ve been a clergy family for as long as I can remember, and yet along comes a young man with an extra chromosome who seems to nail this thing called Ecclesia? This “knowing” of how to go out? This sharing about Jesus in his heart?

The world refers to it as Down syndrome. I refer to it as heart. An extra heart, if you will.

It takes heart to reach out to someone you don’t know. To see a need and fill it. To take something you value and offer it to someone else. To get pleasure from making others happy. To expect nothing in return. No ulterior motives.

In a world that seems to concern itself with me-isms, boasting and upping one another, it’s good to know there’s a Trevor around. A Trevor with a heart bigger than the love of self. A heart that’s worth writing about.

I’ve always said, “Don’t underestimate that extra chromosome. The one that makes Down syndrome such a mystery. It often surprises in ways we least expect.”

On second thought, forget about the extra chromosome. Trevor has enough heart for the rest of us.

Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son and Trevor.

Follow this journey at Life with Charley.

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When My Son With Down Syndrome Proved He Can Participate in Music


When my son, George, who has Down Syndrome, was in the middle of second grade, we moved to a different house in a different part of town. This was a good move for our family: a larger house and a better school district. The move was hard on George. He was having trouble with the transition. We also went from a school willing to fully include him to a school that wanted him to be in a self-contained program.

After many meetings, much debate, an attorney and an advocate, we agreed on a hybrid model of placement in a self-contained special education classroom balanced with mainstreaming into typical classes in one or two academic subjects and all elective classes: Technology, Music, Physical Education and Library. Even though I wanted him around typical peers throughout the day, I clearly didn’t have the staff support of full inclusion. I thought the hybrid model was a compromise to support behavior and academic needs.

The music teacher came to several school meetings trying to convince me regular music class was not for my son. Once she said, “Your son is teased by his classmates in music class.” Another time, “In regular music class we read, write and compose music, adapted music is a better fit because we sing and dance.”

 

I tried to fight back, “As mandated under the IDEA Act, he must be provided with accommodations to participate in the least restricted environment. He can still attend adapted music, but I would like him to be in regular music as well.” I made suggestions on how the aide could adapt the curriculum. A few attempts were tried but George continued to be served in only adaptive music through fourth grade because regular music was deemed too hard and he couldn’t behave.

In fifth grade the music curriculum changed. Instead of general music, kids were placed in band, choir or orchestra. George wanted to play clarinet like the character Squidworth on “Sponge Bob.” He was enrolled in regular band class with a new teacher. Would this be too hard? Could he behave?

All year I never heard a complaint . In May we were invited to a band concert. George behaved quietly and appropriately. He kept up with “Fere Jacques,” “Ode to Joy” and an impressive Queen remix of “We Will Rock You.” Were there a few clunkers?  Yes, those were probably notes by George. Did he stand a little too long after the applause stopped? Yes. But other than that his performance was great. This was because this teacher had put his energies into giving George a chance.

It took every bone in my body not to walk up to the general music teacher and give her a piece of my mind. I think George’s performance may have accomplished that lesson.

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Four pictures with different facial expressions of little boy with Down syndrome wearing a red shirt

To the New Moms of Kids With Down Syndrome: It Will Be OK


During my third pregnancy we found at the 20-week ultrasound we would be adding another boy to our family! Everything was going smoothly until the ultrasound technician couldn’t see something on Charlie’s heart. As a mom of two children already, staring up at the screen trying to see our baby’s heart I knew something didn’t look right. The ultrasound tech was asking me questions I had never been asked in an ultrasound with my other children and things began to feel really awkward. The technician was cold and never smiled once. Briskly she said, “It looks like your baby might have Down syndrome.” She got up and left the room. I was trying hard to be brave, not cry and let those words sink into my heart.

Down syndrome? I knew nothing about Down syndrome.

The doctor came in and urged us to come back the following week for another ultrasound to see if we could see all of Charlie’s heart. He was a kind and compassionate doctor. I have thanked God so often for that man! The conclusion was that what we were looking for in Charlie’s heart couldn’t be found because it wasn’t there. Charlie had three chambers instead of four, along with a cleft valve. The technical name for his heart defect is called atrial septal defect (ASD), which is the most common heart defect among babies with Down syndrome. We were told if he survived he would need open-heart surgery.

A few weeks later we saw a pediatric cardiologist who confirmed Charlie would be born with a heart defect. I also took a blood test that confirmed Charlie would be born with Down syndrome. When the geneticist called with the blood test results she said, “Hello, Nichole, I am calling to give you the results of the DNA test that you took last week. Unfortunately, your son will be born with Down syndrome.”

Unfortunately? My son?

Oh the thoughts that were racing through my mind at that moment. Why do people presume Down syndrome is unfortunate? This is the mindset that scares people into thinking their child doesn’t have worth. This is the mindset that makes the abortion rate what it is in women who receive a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis! The only thing unfortunate in this situation was the geneticist’s sorry attitude towards my son’s life!

From that point forward the pregnancy was considered a “High Risk Pregnancy.” We went to ultrasounds almost every week to monitor Charlie’s progress. We were told most babies with Down syndrome do not make it to full term, which could complicate the matters with Charlie’s heart. Our perinatal doctor and pediatric cardiologist were very gentle but honest in saying they could not guarantee our son would live after he was born. This was extremely difficult to bear.

Maybe you are reading this today and you have received a Down syndrome diagnosis and you are filled with fear or worry for what the future holds for your child. Perhaps you feel inadequate to take care of the needs of a child who will have medical complications or need extra help. Maybe you think you wont be “enough” for your child. Or maybe you are feeling guilty for being scared and overwhelmed by a lot of new information. Well, I’m here to tell you all of the above is completely OK and normal to feel! I believe I can safely say, most of us in this same situation have had similar thoughts and felt the same way.

Breathe.

There is a lot of “bad” and “outdated” information out there about Down syndrome. And not to mention, many doctors who present Down syndrome as “doom and gloom.” You would think by now this would not be the case…but it is.

 

Doctors and professionals can tell you a lot of statistics, numbers and facts — and a lot of it doesn’t sound very promising or pretty. But do you know what they won’t ever be able to tell you? They won’t ever be able to tell you what your child’s favorite color will be or describe their love for bananas or how on their 1st birthday they will cry because they were afraid of the candle. They won’t be able to describe how music makes your child’s face come to life! They won’t be able to describe the love you feel the first time you see your sweet baby’s face and kiss their fingers and toes!

They won’t be able to tell you your child, who is born with a disability, will impact their siblings in a profound way, instilling compassion, patience and love for others.

And they definitely won’t be able to tell you this child — although born with a broken heart or medically fragile and an extra 21st chromosome — this child, the one chosen for you, will teach you how to love deeper and stronger than you could have ever known was possible. Your child will teach you the meaning of real, true, deep love. The kind of love that fights for what is right, stands up for the truth, no matter the cost, and helps you to reach down and become resilient like no Mother or Father has ever been. This child, this sweet babe, will teach you to see love in a different light. The kind that keeps hoping and never giving up for the good things in the world! This child, although different from the rest, will be the one who teaches you what humanity and kindness is all about.

You may very well meet some people along the way who don’t understand these things. In fact, they may even be completely oblivious to them. Believe it or not, this is an opportunity to teach others about how our kids with Down syndrome are children first. Our children, if given the chance, can teach others some really good lessons. Our children can be lights in a world that so badly needs goodness and kindness.

And perhaps you are reading this thinking, “I’m not ready to conquer the world or put my kid out there to teach people nice things…I’m just trying to accept my life has been flipped upside down.” That’s OK. Take it one day at a time. It’s OK to be scared, nervous and fearful. Let all that emotion out. Find someone who you can confide in. Someone you can be real with. You are not alone.

I would be lying if I said our lives are easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. There are things that are difficult about having a child with Down syndrome, but I would like to say equally, there are things that are difficult with my children who do not have a diagnosis. We work extremely hard to help Charlie accomplish small tasks, sometimes for months at a time. There have been plenty of days when I have felt defeated, scared and lonely simply because we have worked so hard and seen little progress. However, the joy that comes from all of us helping Charlie to accomplish something as simple as drinking out of a straw, far outweighs the difficult parts. Charlie’s life brings us together. Charlie’s life has been essential in teaching us all patience and acceptance for each other’s abilities, good or bad.

What I want others to know about Down syndrome is that it isn’t scary. My son and your children, they are so worthy. Worthy of love and affection and of any opportunity that comes along their way. They are world changers, if only given the chance. Are you willing to give them that chance?

So, my friend, welcome to this new journey called Down syndrome. You will experience ups and downs. You will have high-highs and low-lows. You will have hard days, just like anyone who is a parent. One day, any fear or worry you have will melt away. One day you might find yourself jumping and screaming, elated with joy, celebrating a milestone that perhaps you thought was never possible and yet here you are. You will realize you are now part of a secret world full of some of the best people you will ever meet. And I believe your life will be changed…for the better.

Follow this journey at Moberly Avebtures.

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13 Things I've Learned in 13 Years Parenting My Son With Down Syndrome


My son, Alex, has Down syndrome. He recently celebrated his 13th birthday. Now officially a teenager, we’ve opened a new chapter in that non-existent parenting guide we wish we had. To commemorate our entrance into the teen years, here are 13 things I’ve learned in my first 13 years of parenting:

1. There are few guarantees in life.

After Alex was born and I was released from the hospital to visit him in the NICU at a different hospital, I was given time alone at his bedside to bond. I almost immediately became overwhelmed with sadness, envisioning what I thought his future would be: no prom, no driving, no college graduation — all because of his Down syndrome diagnosis and the misinformation I had received. Then, it sharply occurred to me there are no guarantees in life. None. It is what we make of it. And with that, I became an advocate. We’ve learned the importance of flexibility and celebrating every little milestone. It’s my goal to help him achieve whatever it is he wants to do. He’ll get there, eventually, with the proper support and encouragement. That is something I will guarantee.

2. I am an excellent hoop-jumper.

From the time Alex was just a few months old, and probably forever, I’ve been jumping through hoops to get what Alex needs. I’ve learned an initial “no” does not always remain a “no.” To get it to a “yes” though, sometimes requires jumping through endless hoops. Fortunately for Alex, his mother is pretty stubborn, and someday I do expect to earn a gold medal in hoop-jumping from the “Disability Parenting Hall of Fame.” If not that, then perhaps a bronze in Sarcastic Blogging?

3. I will make mistakes, I will stumble, I will lose, but I will never give up.

I’m constantly learning how to be a better parent for all three of my kids. Parenting Alex, so far anyway, has proven to be the most challenging. Fortunately, we have a lot of support and resources to help us along the way. That said, I am far from perfect, and I will screw up along the way. It has happened, and will happen again. The most important lesson I can take from that is to not give up.

4. The opportunities to educate others are endless.

Not many people know a lot about Down syndrome or the disability community in general. I didn’t before Alex was born. I will ashamedly admit I was an ignorant user of the “r-word,” and I wish someone had called me out. I should have known better, but I didn’t, and I contributed to the problem. There are so many opportunities to teach our peers about Down syndrome and inclusion, and while finding the best technique to do so is tricky, it’s worth it in the end.

5. Finding your tribe is important.

Parenting takes up a lot of time, and often, we find ourselves distanced from our friends just because there aren’t enough hours in the day. This is especially difficult for parents in the disability community, as we can endure extra challenges on a daily basis. Having someone — or even a group of people — who truly understand why it takes four days to return a text, are supportive when you have to cancel plans at the last minute and who don’t judge you when you look like a zombie more often than not, are so important to have in your corner. If you have a tribe, be thankful. If you can bring someone into your tribe, do it. We need each other.

6. Introverts make pretty good advocates.

I am an introvert — I do not like confrontations, speaking in front of people or being the center of attention. I’ve learned though, that when I do have to do any of these things, I can handle it. I never thought I would have to speak up the way I have, and I know I have a lot to learn, but I’m proud of the advocate I’m becoming.

 

7. Not everyone advocates the same way, and that’s OK.

Just like we all have different parenting styles, parents in the disability community have different advocacy styles. I often feel like I’m falling short as an advocate, and catch myself comparing my actions and philosophies against others. We are the experts on our own kids, and we’re trying to do the best we can. I am trying to remember that as I continue to learn the best ways to advocate for my son.

8. Siblings are awesome.

Alex is fortunate to have two younger siblings, both of whom are becoming terrific advocates for their brother. I am always impressed to hear them stand up for their brother when he’s not being included and they are confident enough to do this without prompting. While it’s not always easy being the sibling of someone with disabilities, they do know the importance of advocacy and inclusion. They are both amazing kids and I am very proud of them.

9. Nothing is as picture-perfect as it seems.

With social media being such a driving force in our daily lives, it’s difficult to avoid feeling the pressure of presenting the “perfect family.” While I’ll be the first to tell you my household is a hot mess, I feel bad my photos and posts on social media give an illusion that everything is sunshine and unicorns. That is just not true. Each day brings many challenges, and I’m just trying to get through it all with a little humor and grace.

10. Kids are gross.

This has nothing to do with disability parenting — it’s just a fact. If I never find a booger smeared on a window again, I would be a happy lady.

11. Rest is important and that is annoying.

Caregiver fatigue is a real thing. Parents of kids with disabilities are often running on high levels of stress and exhaustion. I can’t tell you how many times, in the last 13 years, I’ve been encouraged to “relax” or “just breathe.” Sorry, but it doesn’t work like that. Even if I had the time, I don’t have the staff to cover all of the daily responsibilities which would allow me the relaxation I need. Although he is 13 years old and is growing to be more independent each day, I still can’t leave Alex unattended as I would a typical 13-year-old. It is what it is. That said, I can always tell when I’m ready to hit a wall. Aside from the obvious crankiness and exhaustion, I will earn myself a nice migraine when I’m not careful to take a break. This is also something I need to work on: more breaks and not feeling guilty for taking them.

12. The laundry will never be done, so don’t even try.

I’m constantly trying to conquer Mount Washmore, and it just never gets any smaller. At this point, as long as everyone has clean underwear for the next day, I consider it a success.

13. Being a mom is by far the best thing I have done in my life.

As frustrating and exhausting as it may be, there is always a joyous moment in my day. I wouldn’t trade being my kids’ mom for anything, not even for someone who could contain Mount Washmore. And that says a lot.

As my kids continue to learn and grow, I will do the same as a parent. They are teaching me far more than I could ever teach them. Here’s to the next 13 years!

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When It's OK to Stare at My Daughter Who Has Down Syndrome


I wince when I catch someone staring at my youngest daughter, Willow. That’s because it hurts me. It physically hurts me. I imagine horrible things that a person might be thinking while looking at my daughter and it causes my heart to break, hence the pain. I want to just yell back, “It’s only an extra chromosome!”

But, I don’t.

Instead, I usually just snatch my littlest love up in my arms, snuggle her in tight and whisper in her ear that I love her.

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I hate it when people stare.

Hate.

Yet, I do it all the time — stare at Willow. I just can’t take my eyes off of her. But, I stare for different reasons.

For starters, Willow is beautiful; an absolute stunner. From her almond shaped eyes to her little sausage toes. From her wavy brownish, blondish, not-sure-what-color-it-even-is hair to the tiny little mole on her ring finger. From her squishy little nose to her pudgy knees. Even the scars on her chest and stomach are gorgeous in my book. They tell the story of her life, after all.

Which brings me to another reason I find myself always staring at my daughter. I’m in awe of her bravery. Not even 4 years old and Willow has had heart surgery, bowel hernia surgery, neutropenia and a cancer scare. Recent blood tests showed she has celiac disease. What a brave knight, yet I don’t see any armor! How does she do it? She’s so tiny, yet so giant. Look at her.

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Look at her!

Seriously. It’s OK this time. It’s OK to stare this time. I want you to look at my daughter the way I do. I want you to see what I see.

Yes, I know you can see Down syndrome. And yes, I know it makes Willow different. But, can you see how amazingly stunning different can be?

Do you see how you can feel her smile?

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Do you see how she dances even when there isn’t any music?

Do you see how she pushes forward when life keeps trying to drag her backwards?

Do you see how she laughs with her entire body?

Do you see how she loves? Fully and completely.

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Do you see how she lives while many of us just go through the motions?

Do you see what I see?

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If you do, I’ll be able to tell in the way you’re staring at my daughter. I’ll know. I can always spot the difference. That is, when I choose to take my eyes off of my beautiful daughter.

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