How I Responded When a Doctor Called My Daughter With Down Syndrome 'High Functioning'

Recently, we’ve had to take our youngest daughter — who is 9 years old — to a bunch of specialists as we try to figure out why she has lost her appetite and is losing weight. You can imagine how scary it can be as a parent when you see your child turn into skin and bones and then have to put them through repeated blood draws and other painful tests to try to determine why.

My husband and I aren’t unfamiliar with seeing specialists as both of our daughters have Down syndrome and we’ve had to see many over the years. But this new batch of hematologists, oncologists and geneticists had put us in a very scary place. In the midst of this overwhelming process, we were taken aback by some of the questions and comments we heard from the “learned” medical community, one in particular.

Given the amount of stress and the fact that my period had arrived in full force to join the fray, I’d like to think it was understandable the comment “your daughter seems to be high functioning” would spark a flame inside my worried momma’s heart. My husband squeezed my hand as this painful comment washed over him as well.

Instead of blasting the doctor with a sarcastically scathing response, I took a deep breath and calmly said “and you seem to be, too.” It took a second for both the doctor and his assistant to register what I said, but then, I had their undivided attention.

I continued “I mean there is Mensa level and then those completely uneducated and you seem to be on the higher end of that scale,” I said this with an encouraging smile and without a trace of anger.

That prompted a sheepish nod and returned smile as they realized I had kindly reminded them we are all different in our mental capabilities, but it’s not very polite to point that out.

I admit it made me very angry that a medical professional would say something so rude and unimportant to the issue at hand — but by choosing to educate rather than alienate — I was able to leave that appointment feeling like I had made a positive thing out of a negative comment. We can’t control what life throws at us, we can only control how we respond to it. I chose to use my powers for good; the force is strong with me.

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