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My Brother With Down Syndrome Inspires Me to Speak Out

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The aroma of freshly cut grass filled the air. The tall lights on the court made the spring night come alive. The laughter of teenage boys was enough to make anyone smile. We had been playing pickup basketball on the outdoor court for the past two hours with no signs of stopping — until a friend blurted out an ignorant comment without any signs of remorse.

“How did you miss that layup? What, do you have Downs?”

At that moment, I was furious. I felt like I was punched in the stomach, and my friend had no idea why.

I was 4 years old when my brother, Chaim, was born. From the first time I saw him, the small nose and narrow eyes were noticeable. Chaim has Down syndrome, meaning he has an extra copy of a chromosome.

But I quickly learned there is a special energy he brings to the world. Whether it’s his uncanny ability to sing beautifully for my grandparents, his love for sports or his infectious laugh, all I know is my brother has the ability to light up a room.

My mother has made it her life’s goal to ensure my brother will be as much like a typical kid as possible. He was the first student with Down syndrome to have been fully included in our school district. He has been the center of my mother’s life since he came into this world, and I’m thankful for that every day.

Inevitably, the social struggles come. To some of his classmates, his physical differences may scream “stay away.” But kids are kids, and they’re unable to accept someone who is different in any way.

My mind exploded with anxiety after my friend said, “What, do you have Downs?” Is this something Chaim is going to have to deal with for the rest of his life? This is why I acted. This is why I yelled. That is why I called my friend ignorant. The vision of my brother walking around his school helplessly as people whisper similar comments among themselves is one that enrages me.

If people are too ignorant to see the light that someone like Chaim brings into their lives, then that’s their loss. That’s what drove me to yell.

The uncontained passion I feel for my brother has resulted in my inability to be a bystander anymore.

Originally published: October 5, 2016
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