We are so fortunate our sons and daughters with intellectual disabilities have neighborhood and national role models who live ordinary lives with outstanding opportunities, doing what is still often considered quite extraordinary things. Because there was a period in history when individuals with Down syndrome of all ages could be institutionalized, a stereotype was promoted that denied the potential and accomplishments of individuals who grew up with a place in their families and acceptance in the community generations before profits were made by separating them from the support, encouragement and natural acceptance that developed anywhere else.
Recent generations have the benefit of self-advocates who worked hard and accomplished their goals despite limited opportunities. It's amazing to think that twenty years ago my son and I met Jason Kingsley and Mitchell Levitz on their book signing tour for Count Us In. Each co-author spoke briefly, and then took questions from the audience before signing books. My son decided to read children's stories to the younger kids with Down syndrome and their siblings, waiting for the line to play itself out.
My son enjoyed talking to Jason for a few minutes before the event began. Emily Kingsley mentioned that they had met young adults and a few older adults with Down syndrome everywhere around the country who were living with varied support, and working at all sorts of jobs in their communities, without being connected with the national organizations or having their stories shared via newspaper
articles or other media. They and their families just showed up in support of the authors.
My son then assumed that people with Down syndrome all wrote books, made speeches, and had acting credits when they grew up. As an older teen and young adult he met older people with Down syndrome, and various ages, who were non-verbal, or had mobility issues, and some who lived
with other challenges. He would describe them according to their interests, jobs, or other particulars that had nothing to do with disability - and assumed that they could and would write books, give speeches (via whatever device or method available) and have jobs or acting credits, too. No pity, and
holding high expectations of them - helping out here and there and assuming they would help him out, too.
Growing up with high expectations for his own future and his own potential was broadly based on the accomplishments of individuals with Down syndrome who disprove the institutionalized stereotype every day that they have enjoyed the civil rights and human rights they deserve. Throughout history, where people with Down syndrome have been casually accepted and supported, they have shown that they contribute to the well-being and success of their families and communities. Overcoming the challenges of isolation, segregation, and institutionalization in recent history and slowly evolving schools, people with Down syndrome continue to break down barriers for everyone.
Browse at your public library, local bookstore, or online retailer for books like: Count Us In: Growing Up with Down Syndrome () or Reflections from a Different Journey : What Adults with Disabilities Wish All Parents Knew
It's not just a job, it's a career - Eric Matthes
Arc of KingCounty's Advocacy Coordinator, Pacific NW Employment Forum 2013