The Mighty Logo

To the People Who Think My Daughter With Down Syndrome Is 'Always Happy'

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

One assumption made about people with Down syndrome is that they’re always happy. I’ve observed my daughter, Lydia, to see how accurate that statement is. Honestly, I don’t like hearing this assumption because I remember all the times she disobeys, yells and screams, and throws a tantrum. To me, she has every emotion, and there’s really no difference with her than my other children in that regard. However, there is another difference.

I find that no matter what Lydia’s going through, she has a genuine interest in people and a genuine kindness in her heart. It’s something I believe is unfamiliar to this world. When she sees people hurting, sad and looking at her, she wants them to be happy. She doesn’t see them staring at her because she’s different; she just wants to see them smile.

When we’re at the clinic and she’s giving blood, even though it hurts her, she’s often more concerned about the person drawing blood. She will start to smile until she sees the tech smile. It is almost as if she doesn’t feel she’s succeeded until she sees that person smile. Often times I find myself thinking her mission is to bring a smile to other people’s faces no matter what.

When she’s eating and she chokes on something, I ask if she is OK. She immediately looks up in the middle of coughing to give me a thumbs up. She doesn’t want me to worry. When she can, you will see her beautiful smile make the room light up. She’s not necessarily OK, but she smiles. Sometimes my heart is full and other times it aches knowing that despite her pain, other people’s happiness brings her great joy.

She goes to school and gives it her all for the couple of hours she’s there. She’s determined and smiling, and she’s helping others. She’s quick to run to someone to give them a hug and a kiss and make it better or just cheer someone on with a high-five. That’s just who she is. However, when we get home, I see her struggle. She coughs and is tired. She sits on my lap sucking her bottom lip, twirling my hair in her tiny hands, fighting to keep her eyes open. I look at her and tell her I love her, and she manages a half-smile from the corner of her mouth.

She throws a tantrum because I can’t understand what she needs. She gets frustrated and angry. It’s not her fault, nor is it mine, but sometimes there’s no good way to change the situation. She throws her body on the ground and hits the floor, screaming. She yells and looks at me like, “What is wrong with you, Mom, why can’t you understand?” I do my best, but there is frustration. As she comes out of the tantrum she easily forgets, gives me a hug and tries to make me smile. It’s forgotten and left behind with not an utterance of it again. Her smile is still there through the frustration, and she always makes sure I have a hug and am OK.

I watch her in the hospital when she is feeling crummy, is in pain and just wants to be left alone. But as soon as the nurse or doctor walks in, she has a smile and is ready to give a high-five or a hug. She loves people and it doesn’t matter how she feels; she will reach out to anyone and make them smile.

She interacts with the hospital staff and lights up when they smile back. She waits for them to give her a little bit of attention, and then she turns on her charm.

Yes, she does smile a lot. But her smile is for your good and not because she’s “always happy.” She looks for ways to make others smile — that is one of her gifts. She has the full range of emotions. She feels just like you and me. But she’s built with an inner smile to make the hardest of faces smile back at her. Her smile says she cares about you, her smile says to have a great day, her smile tells you you’re loved. It doesn’t mean she’s always happy — I believe it only means she thinks of others before herself.

Follow this journey on Loving Lydibug.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability and/or disease. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: September 25, 2015
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home