How to Approach My Brother With Down Syndrome

I’ve grown up with my brother, Michael, who has Down syndrome my whole life. It’s always been natural for me to approach another individual with disabilities without hesitation. However, I’ve noticed that even some of my closest friends struggle with approaching Michael, so I thought I’d write about ways to make it easier.

Michael loves to be acknowledged. Even though he’s nonverbal, he loves it when others approach him and say hello. He might not communicate back in words, but he will always accept whoever’s introducing themselves. If someone waves at him, he’ll wave back. If someone gives him a high-five, he’ll always be down for it, and wait for a fist-bump back — Michael loves those.

I know some people get really intimidated and aren’t sure what to do, but Michael definitely notices if you ignore him. Other people with disabilities, like Michael, can tell if you’re uneasy and uncomfortable, and there’s honestly no reason to be! Even if you don’t get the response you expect, it’s always really touching to see any form of effort put in.

Something I absolutely adore and love about Michael is his kind, loving, nondiscriminatory personality. Michael couldn’t care less about your gender, sexual orientation, race, etc. Michael will always reciprocate to those who approach him in a friendly manner. I continue to be inspired through his language of love, and his behavior towards others is what I find as one of the most important aspects about keeping and supporting the Down syndrome community.

If I ever encounter someone in the disability community, here’s what I’ll usually say:

“Hey I’m Julia! whats your name?” Usually with a handshake or high-five.

And it’s just as easy as that! Usually if they’re with their parent or caretaker, I’ll let them know I’ve got a twin brother with Down Syndrome, and they’re immediately reassured. Every person may react differently, but it’s always much better to say hello and ask how they’re doing, rather than just stare.

Honestly, I can’t put to words how meaningful it is to me when people come up to me and acknowledge Michael and talk to him –even though Michael doesn’t respond back with words — it really does make a difference.

A version of this post first appeared on Beyond the Waves.

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