My Son With Down Syndrome Is Brilliant


I was born into a family known as the “smart Harnetts.” Excellence in school was expected. Intelligence was a source of pride. And brilliance was of utmost importance.

Twenty seven years later, my son Patrick was born with Down syndrome.

I thought it meant he wouldn’t be brilliant. Anyone who thinks people with Down syndrome (or other developmental disabilities) are not smart, needs to think again.

Since then, I’ve learned “smart” is subjective. IQ is just a number and brilliance has more to do with the light within.

Patrick was around 5 years old when Elise, his speech therapists, came to our home armed with the tools to teach the concept of “similarities and differences.” One of those tools was a worksheet. Down the left hand side of the page were pictures of objects. And off to the right were three more pictures. Patrick was to identify the picture on the right that had a similarity to the one on the left.

Patrick aced it. No sweat. He breezed through the first five lines. Elise and I were smugly patting ourselves on the back at how well we’d taught him.

Until the last line.

On that line, there was picture of leaves on the left. To the right, pictures of candy, an apple and some eggs.

Elise prompted Patrick to identify the leaves and indicate that leaves grow on trees. Then she asked, “what else grows on trees?”
Patrick pointed at the eggs. I felt disappointed.

Elise shot me a look. And asked again.

“Patrick. Use your words. What else grows in trees? candy? apples? or eggs?”

Patrick swiftly and boldly pointed at the eggs and said “eggs.”

Elise pulled back. Trying to make light, she teasingly said “Patrick! Eggs don’t grow on trees!”

And that’s when my son, my brilliant son, cupped his baby fat hands together and said “Yes. In the nest.”

Brilliance comes from the light within.

A version of this post was published as “Dancing On the Box.”

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