Why is today so special? It's International Down Syndrome Day.
Grab a cup of coffee, sit for a moment, and let me tell you a story.
The other day, down the hall from my office, a group of Redfin Realtors joked around with each other at the end of a staff meeting. Out of the general din of their conversation, I heard this comment:
"It's like the Special Olympics - doesn't matter which retard you pick, they all win."
Because I didn't hear the context, I had to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Maybe I misunderstood what was being said.
For that reason, I didn't confront the group directly about the choice of words, or try to educate them on the harm their words cause.
What bothered me, though, was not the use of the "R-Bomb".
(I'm not the "Word Police" - if you can't use words in a way that ADD value to society -- that’s your problem . In fact, it might explain why folks don’t really show interest in your problems or take you seriously.)
What bothered me most was that the whole group laughed at the joke.
The laughter told me there are far too many people that don't have an understanding of what Down Syndrome is, or is not.
15 months ago, my wife and I had a beautiful baby boy.
His picture appears at the top of this post - in that photo, he just finished eating his first chocolate chip cookie.
His name is Fritz.
At birth he was diagnosed with Down Syndrome.
There was no gnashing of teeth or wailing about his diagnosis in our house.
My wife and I have a single mission: to give our children the tools to be the best "Them" that they can be, with whatever hand they are dealt.
It has been a struggle though - there is a steep learning curve when it comes Down Syndrome.
Mostly, this is because so many people - from doctors to teachers, from neighbors to friends - subscribe to 200 year old myths about kids with Down Syndrome.
I am going to tackle some of those myths today.
Remember this letter that floated around the internet a while back - the one with the neighbor that "Trolled" his neighbor about an excessively bright floodlight? He made this comment:
Folks with a Down Syndrome diagnosis are not simpletons that hug a lot.
They are Real people. With Real thoughts. Real feelings. Real dreams. Real hopes. Real fears.
They are successful small Business Owners.
They are elected legislators.
They hold doctorate degrees.
They are accomplished athletes.
They are physical endurance record setters.
They are actors and actresses.
They are comedians.
Don't limit other people with bullshit stereotypes rooted in prejudice. If you can do something, I promise you: someone with Down Syndrome can do it.
Maybe even better.
If we really truly believed that people - or life itself - were gifts from god, we would do everything in our power to avoid war. We would cure cancer. We would be nicer to each other.
We wouldn't allow wars to happen over stupid bullshit like who gets control of the oil, who gets to be called Supreme Leader, or whose coins and money get to dominate the world economy.
We wouldn't allow Monsanto to destroy an entire generation in 2 countries with toxins like Agent Orange, or destroy an entire planet's food supply with plasticized genetically-altered chemical products they try to pass off as "food".
Nevertheless, a baby with Down Syndrome is no more or less a gift from god than any other kid out there.
Calling kids with Down Syndrome "precious gifts" devalues other children, and limits the child with a Down Syndrome diagnosis.
You want to know what kids with Down Syndrome REALLY are?
Nothing more. Nothing less.
This myth must have appeared on a Hallmark card or something - it is hogwash masquerading as sympathy.
If I had a nickel for every time someone dropped this nonsense on me this when Fritz was born, I’d have enough nickels to buy Hallmark.
Here’s the reality - the parents whose child is diagnosed with Down Syndrome are neither blessed by god nor cursed by god. They are not entrusted with a special child.
At least not any more or less than any other parent of any other child.
The bottom line is this: the cause of Down Syndrome is not known.
Certain risk factors may increase or decrease the likelihood of a DS diagnosis. The age of the parents at conception, for example, is a factor. Very little research is being done on Down Syndrome - the total annual amount invested in Down Syndrome research is probably about the same amount as we pay to fuel a B-1B for a bombing run (like I said, we don't really believe life or people are precious gifts from god).
We may never learn the scientific cause for the condition.
So I have my theories on what causes Down Syndrome, and you are free to have yours. I encourage you to share them - the more we talk, the more we understand each other.
But I promise you, the cause of Down Syndrome has nothing to do with god giving special gifts to special people.
Just like I’m not the word police, I’m not the “health-care” police.
Pro-choice or anti-choice, anti-life or pro-life - your call totally. I don’t have a dog in that fight. Do what’s right for you.
But the abortion rates in the US following a pre-natal diagnosis of Down Syndrome are significantly higher than the general population.
Maybe its because misinformation about Down Syndrome breeds like bacteria in a petri dish. Far too many doctors still think of Down Syndrome as the "mongoloid-retard-hug-a-lot-simpleton” syndrome.
Maybe its because the empowering experiences of parents like this are drowned out in the cacophony of self-serving "come-join-my-pity-party" redemption stories.
The second story forces us to fear a child with Down Syndrome.
The first story reshapes our imagination, and presents a new paradigm of what it could mean to be the parent of a child with Down Syndrome, or to know someone with Down Syndrome.
Don’t believe me?
Check out this dad here in Dallas. Or this dad - who I believe is a fellow lawyer.
This isn't a myth. It's true. But not in the way you might guess.
Here's one way it changed my life. I learned that my wife is a bigger bad-ass than any Army Ranger I have ever met.
Let me explain.
I started working at 4:30am today, working on another Veterans law eBook until about 7am. I jumped in the shower and grabbed a breakfast burrito with the kids. Then it was off to the office until 4pm, when I left to take my stepson to his baseball game at 5:30pm. We got home at 9pm. I grabbed some mac-and-cheese, chatted with my wife for a minute or two, and spent some time reviewing a VA Form 9 draft that our newest attorney prepared in one of our cases (he's going to do great things, if this draft is any indicator). It's 10:45pm, and I'm finally shutting down the shop after putting the finishing touches on this post. That's a long 18 hour day - but I'm not complaining.
Because while I'm out building a law firm that is Changing the Way Veterans Experience the VA Claims Process - motivated in no small part by my desire to ensure my kids see an adult change the world for the better - my wife's day went like this:
3-4 hours of physical, occupational and speech therapy.
Driving across the massive DFW metroplex for doctors appointments. Often, she drives hour across town to find a decent facility or opportunity for Fritz or the older kids. Today, she put 80 miles of driving on the car: that's a LIGHT day, believe me.
She’s dumping every ounce of energy she has into getting Fritz the same opportunity as any other child. Teaching him to eat (she hand-makes 5 meals a day for him). She teaches him to sign...to speak....to read....to crawl....to walk. With a smile on her face.
We have no extended support network here in Dallas - and Down Syndrome resources here are few and far between in a metroplex as big as Dallas - so my wife does all of it by herself through the work week, without much of a break.
You know I love you, Jen - the day I met you was the best day of my life. But I never truly realized what a bad-ass you were until Fritz joined our little clan.
I never knew how much one person could do for another person - with an infinite supply of love.
If this is what knowing someone with Down Syndrome taught me in just a few short months, imagine what you might learn.
Celebrate International Down Syndrome Day - today.
Get to know someone with Down Syndrome.
Chris Attig, an Accredited Veterans Benefits attorney and Founder of the Attig Law Firm, PLLC is responsible for the content of the site. The principal office of Attig Law Firm, PLLC, is located in Dallas, Texas. Chris Attig is NOT Certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. - Please view our website disclaimer.
©2007-2013 Attig Law Firm, PLLC
We have a lot in common amigo, my daughter Honey Sue is afflicted by birth defects related to A/O with the result being mental retardation cerebral palsy and a who laundry list of other problems that try to limit her life. But, my wife is a bad ass too. The good Suzanne has spent the past 43 years insuring that Honey Sue gets every opportunity available and lives her life on the very cutting edge of her possibilities rather than sitting on her butt helplessly like so many handicapped kids, who lack a bad ass for a mom. I salute all bad ass moms everywhere. They make great soul mates.
Amen, brother, Amen.
Any tips or pointers for a guy like me just starting on the path of raising a child with special needs? You’ve got 43 years of experience — I figure you can save me learning a lot of lessons “the hard way”.
Have a great weekend, Ron!
International Down Syndrome ,Fritz is beautiful,and thank you for your storyI dont spell very well but I wanted to thank you,we have a yung man with Down Syndrome,his name is Dominick,Dominick showed us how to love more and how strong a person is us and him self.Dominick went to heven in December 2004 and its still like yesterday,I still what for him to come sit with me and give me a big hug.we Love him so much,I think of Dominick every day and night.Every day.I still go to talk to him and my mom where thay are resting.I have put in V A clames and get turned down,I am 68 years old and between things going though my head about what happen in the army and thinking about Dominick every day it is realey hard on this old brain,I just dont no what to do next,thay have messed up my claims and i get turned down just dont know what else to do,the time has run out its been moer then a year .Thank you very much for writing about Down Syndrome Day its just wonderful to no some one cares as much as i do,I have a memorial motor cycle ride in Dominick name I started last year and I donate the money to the Down Syndrome net work here in Binghamton ny & to the Ronald McDonald House in syracuse ny.Dominick is my Grand son but we helped rase him and he had no DAD so I call Dominick my son.Thank You Chris for writhin about Down Syndrome,,,Steve F. (Address removed by Attig)
Steve, I hope you don’t mind, I pulled your address off the post.
You know, I went to college just down the road from you in Scranton. Remember the Binghamton Whalers? I was a regular at their games.
Thanks for sharing your story, and I am so sorry for your loss. My heart broke a little bit reading about Dominick’s passing, and I will raise a toast for you and him tonight, and keep y’all in my thoughts and prayers.
WHy don’t you give Corinne a call about your VA Claim – here is our toll-free number (866) 627-7764. I don’t know if there is anything we can do, but I don’t think it would hurt to take a look.
Thanks for the reminder about this important day!
I just had to comment on that post. My sister told me yesterday that she sat in front of a girl with Down Syndrome at church. She watched the girl next to her act very awkward and uncomfortable the whole time. My sister wished there was something she could say…
I’m a Christian woman and to hear that someone would behave that way while sitting in church, listening to the word of God is SO SAD to me! I wish there was something that could be done to change people’s idiotic views.
And screw it, hugs to Fritz!! And Jennifer! 🙂