5 Ways My Boy With Down Syndrome Shines


When you have a kid with Down syndrome, you hear a lot about what they can’t do. How they don’t measure up to neurotypical peers in reading or math or handwriting or jumping jacks. Those gaps are analyzed and quantified and presented in brutally clinical fashion in IEP meetings. But too little time is spent discussing your kid’s strengths or specific gifts. I’ve often heard people say they want to see my son “live up to his potential,” as though potential was finite or measurable. But that’s not the same as seeing him as a whole person, endowed with both gifts and flaws, as complex and wonderful and maddening as anyone else on the planet.

So in honor of October’s status as Down Syndrome Awareness Month, I wanted to share a few ways in which my boy really shines:

1.  He has unbelievable eye hand coordination. That’s one I didn’t expect, since the early days of physical therapy and all of the lamentations about low muscle-tone. But he can hit a pitched wiffle-ball two yards down the street and throws a frisbee better than anyone else at our house.

2. He loves to take care of people. If anyone suffers even the slightest injury, he’s running for the freezer to grab an ice-pack for them. When his brother or sister are sick, my son gets their pillow and blanket and makes a comfy spot on the couch for them. On a near-daily basis, I hear from school that he’s taken care of a classmate or teacher in some way. He’s a great helper.

3. He’s hilarious. This became abundantly clear when he was 3 and I’d signed him up for a beginner’s swim class. The first day, the teacher had the kids sit on the side of the pool, and handed the first kid in a line a bucket of water. The idea being the kids would splash themselves with a little water to get acclimated. The first child in line was a little girl who spritzed her face. Next up, a boy, who poured the water down his own chest and laughed. Then it’s my son’s turn. He stands up, carefully picks up the bucket and dumps it over the teacher’s head. That was the last time she underestimated my kid…or handed him a bucket.  Now that he’s older, he’s moved from water buckets to wisecracks, but his aim is just as good.

4. He has a mind like a steel trap when it comes to directions. Every time we’re in the car, he’s pointing out landmarks and reminding me that we’ve been to a certain place, or that another place is just around the corner, and he’s always right. He clearly doesn’t get that from me, since I’d be lost without a GPS.

5. He’s a great brother. He loves his little brother and big sister fiercely, and showers them with affection and attention. And their sibling dynamics are really quite typical. A recent example: my youngest son is terrified of clowns. He didn’t like them when he was little and our neighbor parking a life-sized Pennywise on his front porch for Halloween hasn’t helped. The other night at dinner, my youngest was being a real pest. He kept interrupting his older brother’s story about art class with his random thoughts about unrelated things. So older son stops talking, deliberately looks over his brother’s head at the big window behind him that looks out over our backyard and says, “Hey Bubba, is that a clown?” I’ve never seen my youngest child move that fast. He may have eight inches and 15-pounds on his big brother now, but older son is still running the show.

In so many ways, my son is a lot like your children, and our family runs in much the same way as yours. Our day to day lives are usually pretty busy, sometimes a little chaotic, but also deeply satisfying in a way I couldn’t have predicted before my son was born.

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