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The Moment I Saw How Others See My Sister With Down Syndrome

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Being the oldest of three siblings, I naturally keep tallies — making sure my brother doesn’t eat the last Pop-Tart or that my sister doesn’t take all of my popcorn. Despite my attempts for food fairness in the house, other people have never seemed to see it the same way. Likely because my 12-year-old sister Jessie has Down syndrome.

Jessie knows everyone in our neighborhood and introduces us to random people wherever we go, prompting us to name her “the mayor” for her superior social life. But I’ve never seen it as anything special or extraordinary; it’s just Jessie being Jessie and other people reacting positively. 

Yet I wondered — why don’t people compliment me on my new dress or how I did at a swim meet? Why doesn’t the waitress at our favorite restaurant remember my name and my usual order? Because let me tell you, Jessie gets complimented. Jessie’s favorite meal of spaghetti with no sauce is remembered. This has always been the “Down-side” — the not-so-fun part of having a sibling with special needs.

But today was the day that I truly got it — the day I saw what made other people smile. As we walked along the boardwalk at the beach, we headed into our favorite sports store where we get our Baltimore Orioles fan gear. Jessie’s an all-around excited person, so going into a store with her favorite team’s paraphernalia was even more exciting for her. She perused, attempting to convince us to buy her shirts that were too small and hats that were too large. We finally made it to checkout with both a shirt and a hat (in the right size). She was happy to have gotten a shirt that matched mine and a hat that matched our brother’s. The sales clerk noticed and was all smiles as we approached. She made small talk with us, asking Jessie questions about how much she loved the Orioles. 

After we paid, the woman took out a sparkly Orioles bracelet my mom and I had been admiring.

“Hold out your arm,” she told Jessie and then fixed the clasp around her small wrist. Jessie’s face lit up like a Christmas tree as she exclaimed, “Oh my gosh!” The clerk beamed at her. While my mom thanked her a thousand times, the woman insisted it was no problem; she wanted Jessie to have it. 

And that is when I understood why other people treat Jessie the way they do.

Instead of seeing the “needs,” they see the “special.” And I couldn’t be happier about that.

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Originally published: August 3, 2015
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