Recently, I had the opportunity to take my 3 year old son Michael on his very first field trip. It was your usual fall preschool field trip, complete with pumpkin patch, hayride, and of course…the boo barn. It was tons of fun for mommy and her little man. On our way back to the car, we ran into a group from another school. The students at this school had various disabilities. Most were non-verbal and non mobile, many of which were in wheelchairs or specialty strollers. Like any curious 3 year old, Michael began asking questions. “Mommy, why does that boy like me have wheels on his chair like that?” I immediately responded with, “Well buddy, sometimes, children and grown ups have difficulty walking and they need some help to get around so they use wheelchairs.” “Like when me and Ava get tired of walking and you and Daddy carry us?” “Exactly, Michael, but its all the time” “Ok, Mommy.” At the end of this 30 second conversation, the aide that was pushing the little boy in the wheelchair in front of us turned around and said, “Thank you Buddy for asking such a great question. Its always nice to ask questions. We usually don’t get that. We usually just get stares.” Obviously, that statement went over his 3 year old head, but it stuck in mine the entire way home.
As a mother of a child with Down syndrome, I am no stranger to stares. However, most of my stares are followed by, “look at that beautiful red hair!” or “well, aren’t you the cutest thing!” It usually is never what I fear the most. It saddens me though, that there are children out there that cannot go on something so simple as a field trip without being stared at. They can not feel the warm October sunshine on their face or hold their prize pumpkin without being labeled as different. That, for whatever reason, adults can not embrace the similarities we all have and do not teach their children that different is beautiful. Children are naturally curious, they ask questions. Many times when they ask a question that is uncomfortable for the adult, such as “Why is that child in a wheelchair?” or “what is Down syndrome?” they are hushed or told that “we will talk about it later.” Usually, later never comes, and instead of it being a learning experience, children come to fear the unknown and label it as bad. This is where stigmas start.
Ava was 19 months old when Michael was born. She does not remember a time when he did not exist. When Ava had in home therapy, Michael was there. When Ava said her first word, he was sitting right beside her. When Michael started to crawl, Ava was butt scooting next to him. When Michael took his first steps, Ava, not to be out done, took hers as well. To Michael, there is no difference. He does not see Down syndrome. He sees, Ava, his sister. She is the one who takes his toys and tries to mother him when he falls down. She is the one who he draws pictures for. She is the one that he chases down the hall in the morning when they should be brushing their teeth. She is his cuddle buddy. She is the one who wakes up early on the weekends so she can pick which show she wants to watch first. She is the one who will play endless games of Spider-man with him and never once complain. He is her best friend and biggest cheerleader. If you ask him if he thinks Ava is different than he is, his response would be, “Yes, Ava is a girl and I am a boy.” Its a simple as that. The whole world could take a lesson from a 3 year old.image