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Two Words That Can Change Perceptions About People With Down Syndrome

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I’ll never forget the night we ate dinner in Little Italy. Mom, Kolleen, and I had enjoyed a long but exciting vacation day in New York, “long” and “exciting” being the two words that described each of our days there.

It was on the same day we saw the Statue of Liberty, Kolleen’s favorite part of the trip, and we’d finally made it to Little Italy for her much-requested favorite food, pasta.  “Keep going, baby,” I encouraged her on the way, when weariness threatened to overtake motivation. “I promise you’ll have spaghetti for dinner.”

We finally found a restaurant that offered no wait for an interior table, and we sat for the first time in hours, eager for a glass of vino and a delicious Italian meal.  Our waiter took our drink orders and returned with our menus. One for Mom, one for me, and one for… He looked at Kolleen’s face, hesitated, and then pulled his hand back, still clutching the third menu.

Mid-action, he’d changed his mind about offering a menu to a person with Down syndrome.

Our dinner in Little Italy is just one incidence of insensitivity of servers and other business people toward Kolleen. I wish it were the only. I’ll skip over my reaction that night, as I’m sure you can guess what it was, and instead I’ll zero in on the many, many times servers have asked me what she’d like to eat. And I always reply, with a smile, the same way:  Ask her.

“Would she like a refill?”

Ask her.

“Is she finished?”

Ask her.

“Ask her” (or “ask him”) are two simple words that can go a long way toward changing the perception of people with Down syndrome.  “Ask her” is a gentle reminder that a person with Down syndrome is worthy of the same respect extended to other customers in any setting. She is a customer too.

I’ll quietly prompt her in a restaurant if she has trouble pronouncing what she’d like to order, or I’ll repeat what she’s said if a server has a difficult time understanding her words. But regardless of her vocabulary and speech, her thoughts and replies are hers. She wants to, like anyone else, read (or not read) her menu, order her food, and answer questions about her wishes.

Don’t hesitate.  Just ask her.

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Photo by contributor.

Originally published: November 17, 2017
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