Strangers Observing My Son with Down Syndrome
Three teenagers thought that my son might be their classmate from childhood, although that would have meant that he would have been a teenager, too. It was not just the staring, but the whispering that had bothered me, so I was glad to hear their story. This kind of thing has happened regularly through the years, although generally it's an individual who asks my son if he attended a certain school. I always hope that my son's friends from school approach the other young man in a similar appreciative way.
A middle-aged woman with a younger companion was studying my son a little too carefully, but had a new baby with Down syndrome in her family, in another state. When my son spoke to me about something that was fairly ordinary for a boy his age, she nodded her head, as if she had been having a conversation with herself and what she heard had tipped her opinion definitely over to one side.
Sometimes people stare because they have lost a loved one with Down syndrome. I was particularly moved by an older couple. The wife said they had thought about adopting a child with Down syndrome, after losing their son; her husband said they didn't because there was no guarantee another child with Down syndrome would be like their boy. Then she said, "No one could be." I felt honored that my son had reminded them of the one they obviously missed so much.
All sorts of people have observed my son without introducing themselves, and I wonder how I could read such a variety of expressions to mean only pity or judgment. Maybe some of them have family members with Down syndrome who are very different than my son. I wonder if a few, here and there, acted on a prenatal diagnosis, and think now that they should have had better information before making that choice. What I may have read as pity might be sadness for their own loss. Some might be looking at him as a grandchild, niece or nephew they might have had, or a best friend's child who was never born.
On my best days, I recognize that there are many reasons that my son has attracted strangers' attention. But even then, I want to send a message that staring, without smiling or greeting , is intrusive and rude. After a few unpleasant experiences over the years, I have a very low tolerance for those who intrude into our everyday lives with hate or bullying in their heart; almost matched by the discomfort I feel when strangers make patronizing remarks that they believe are compliments, or universally accepted truths about people with Down syndrome.
My son is a unique individual, and there will never be another person like him. No one could be.
Browse at your local bookstore, public library or online retailer for books like Gifts: Mothers Reflect on How Children with Down Syndrome Enrich Their Lives and its companion, Gifts 2: How People with Down Syndrome Enrich the World.
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