October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Begun in the 1980’s, it has been recognized every October since its inception.
The Special Olympics website highlights this month with this statement: “Practice inclusion during Down Syndrome Month and all year long.” Oh, how I wish people would be more open to this!
Also on the site is a quote by David Egan, a former Special Olympics Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger. He states – “Down Syndrome does not define us as people, It is a condition that makes it harder for us to learn, but with patience and persistence, we are able to contribute to our society.”
Wow! What an impressive summary! I read it with a tinge of envy. Why can’t Bryan reason like that and express himself so beautifully? And then I got to thinking. Someone once told me that there is a wider range of intellectual variation amongst the Down Syndrome population than of “normal” society. I am grateful that Bryan is able to express himself as well as he does. Yes, he is disfluent and one needs to be quite patient when listening to him speak. But I know several Down Syndrome individuals who are nonverbal, some who rely on sign language to communicate, and some who rely solely on technology to make themselves understood.
Actually, I sometimes wonder if Bryan even knows he HAS Down Syndrome. I’ve tried asking him and explaining it to him. He listens politely, doesn’t react and moves on. It seems like it’s of no consequence to him.
He bristles when people treat him differently. He gets embarrassed when his disability causes him to be singled out. But if you asked him about Down Syndrome itself – I wonder what his level of understanding would be?
Bryan was able to compete “live” for the first time in almost two years at the Local Special Olympics Meet this past Sunday. What a joy that was for him! He came away with a silver and a gold. Significant numbers of his fellow competitors likewise had Down Syndrome. Does that matter to Bryan? I think not.
All I know is that he is happily back to training with his friends and coaches. Experiencing the freedom of a cross country track in the crisp open air while sharing the joy with fellow athletes is such a blessing! (So is being able to ditch the mask while doing his racewalking!)
During October, let us all be more aware of those individuals with Down Syndrome who, through no fault of their own, are different than us both physically and mentally. And let us realize that the simple joy of taking a walk outdoors and being with friends is a commonality shared by us all. “Practice inclusion.”