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Yes, Your Child With Disabilities Can Have a Full Life

“Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” –Arthur Brisbane, 1911

My husband and I have many photos of my daughter Yassy, 20, and her friend Caden, 21. But this one, from October 2019, stands out as my favorite. Because this is Disability History Month, Disability Employment Awareness Month, and Down Syndrome Awareness Month, the meaning behind this photo shines brighter and clearer.

Both Yassy and Caden have Down syndrome. They are each proud of who they are, while knowing their disability does not define them. In this photo, I see two young adults, dressed formally for a happy occasion. This was the first dress Yassy had worn that was for a young woman, not a “teen.” Caden had on a sharp suit that he had just changed into after his varsity football practice that afternoon at school. Yassy was beautiful, and Caden was very handsome. Caden is a great dancer, with a large Tik Tok following, and in this photo, I see joy after dancing for hours. Caden makes Yassy laugh.

I have a lot of similar photos of Yassy’s older sister Nia with her high school boyfriend. They are photos we loved, but took for granted at the time. While Caden and Yassy are best friends now, not boyfriend and girlfriend (yet), seeing them dressed just like any peer, having a great time like any peer, warms my heart beyond expression. This photo equals happiness.

Caden understands Yassy. She is shy. He is outgoing. He is tolerant and patient; she is observant and supportive. She is very proud that he was a good varsity athlete. But there is more to them than that. They were both good students who graduated with highest honors. They were both included in their high schools. Yassy was on her Student Council and Caden was Homecoming King. They both have had job successes already, even before graduation. They both made the most of their very non-traditional pandemic graduations. They are both far more than any stereotypes that still exist today about people with Down syndrome.

They have not seen each other much since the pandemic started, but they both love Zoom. They even made one of their Zoom dances their own virtual prom. Hopefully, their friendship will continue to bloom. They are happy to be in the same Project SEARCH class that meets on Zoom daily.

To parents of young children with disabilities: please believe your kids will grow up and experience many, most, or all of the milestones everyone does. I did not have a photo like this in my mind when Yassy was young. We were just getting through day by day, month by month, and year by year. Genuine inclusion in school is a challenge and a job.

To everyone in the community around us: please look at this photo and see two happy, successful young adults with the world ahead of them. Just like other young graduates you may know. Get to know more people with disabilities around you, as co-workers, neighbors, classmates and friends. Please don’t see charity cases.  Thank heaven for cell phone cameras and photos. Thank heaven for genuine friendships. My family is very happy that Yassy met Caden a year ago.

This story was published with Yassy’s and Caden’s permission.