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To the People Who Associate Down Syndrome With Constant Happiness

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I’d like to introduce you to my brother. Diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth, I can tell you he has not spent his whole life laughing. He has not smiled through every moment of his life. I have seen him yell, I have seen him hit and I have seen him cry. Sometimes I am blown away by his ability to feel things so greatly, as even I have to remind myself that his Down syndrome does not limit his emotions.

His feelings are equally as real and as valid as ours. He expresses sadness when people ignore him or stare at him with judging eyes. He gets angry when he’s forced to eat a meal he doesn’t like or when he gets in trouble for not listening to our parents. He becomes afraid in new situations with large and loud crowds. He shows empathy and knows when to cry with me or when to just hold my hand and tell me he loves me. He is not a body capable of only one emotion. He is a human who feels widely and deeply.

Many stories of individuals with Down syndrome are happy ones, and that’s because the best stories are the good ones. That does not mean those are the only stories that exist. Yes, my brother says hi to cashiers at the grocery store and tells them about his day at school. Yes, he picks up the cereal boxes a customer dropped in the breakfast aisle. Yes, he pulls funny faces to make my friends laugh; but that’s not because he has Down syndrome. That’s because he is a kind person. He is not always a happy person, but he is kind.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have bad stories too, like the time he sprayed mirror cleaning spray in my eyes, or the time he hit my brother because he was angry, or the time he yelled because he didn’t want to eat the chicken my dad grilled for dinner. I believe generalizing the emotions of an individual with Down syndrome as always being positive is like saying a person with depression is always quiet or a person with anxiety is always worried or a person with an eating disorder is always thin. We are more than our mental illnesses. My brother, and everyone like him, is more than his Down syndrome.

When you associate Down syndrome with constant happiness, or when you tell me nothing must ever hurt my brother, you are limiting his capacity to feel. You are saying happiness must be the only emotion he has. You are telling me no words can ever hurt him. You are taking yet another thing about him and imagining him to be different.

Please eliminate this stigma. Please imagine him complexly, just like you would imagine anyone else. He is just like everyone else.

The author's brother sitting in front of a birthday cake

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people you wish people knew about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Have you seen the first film with a national release to star a person with Down syndrome? Check out the film “Where Hope Grows” today!

Available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes.

Originally published: May 20, 2016
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