Down Syndrome and Birthdays

Looking at the searches that have lead people to this blog is an adventure.  Some are hits – each time I see a search about prenatal diagnosis I give myself a mental high five.  Some are misses – “natural garden images” for my Welcome to Holland analysis.  Some surprise me – I’ve had multiple views of my post from Adelle’s birthday for searches relating to celebrating birthdays of people with Down syndrome.  That post doesn’t address the topic at all and, honestly, I never would have thought about addressing this topic because sometimes I forget about Before Meredith.

Before Meredith was nice.   She tried to do the right thing.  She didn’t want to offend anyone or hurt any feelings – to the extent that she avoided situations or people that might cause either of those things to happen.

I can imagine her flipping through the mail while walking up the driveway from the mailbox, smiling a little at a small colorful envelope addressed to Brady, obviously carrying an invitation from a friend.  I can imagine her reading the glossy photo invite over his shoulder, happy that he has been included in this celebration by a little classmate.  The who, when, and where listed next to a smiling picture of a little boy or girl with Down syndrome in the shape of a balloon or a birthday cake, colorful cartoon confetti splashed all over the background.  That picture would morph Before Meredith’s smile into an anxious frown.  Later, she would carefully Google “Down syndrome birthday”, for the perfect “Down syndrome gift” so as not to offend the poor “Down syndrome child” or “Down syndrome parents.” Then, on the day of the party, she would drop her son off with his brightly decorated gift, to play games and eat cake, and she would cross her fingers that the gift was correct and be proud that her son had a friend with a disability – big parenting pat on the back. Yeah!

It would be easy for the person I am now to get angry at Before Meredith.  There is so much injustice in the world when it comes to people with disabilities.  It can be overwhelmingly heart breaking.  Before Meredith is a convenient (although not fair) scapegoat.  Before Meredith doesn’t know many people with disabilities.  But I know what is in her heart, because I was her.  Her heart is mine, with less experience.  Her mind is open.  She is looking for the right answer.  So here it is:

A child with Down syndrome is a child first.  They would probably appreciate whatever fad is popular with children in their class.  Feel free to ask what they are interested in when you call in your RSVP, or let your child choose the gift.  A birthday with Down syndrome is the same as a birthday without Down syndrome.  Just like any other child, a child with Down syndrome will care more about having friends at their party than the gift brought with the friend.

The same goes for any other situation for people with Down syndrome.  They are people first.  Down syndrome is something they have, not who they are.  Down syndrome does not make someone all that different from anyone else.  To Before Meredith I say: Don’t be afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing.  Don’t worry about what you don’t understand.  Put yourself out there.  Ask Now Meredith.  She would be happy to answer your questions and you will be better because of what you learn.

photo credit: chambanamoms.com

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4 thoughts on “Down Syndrome and Birthdays”

  1. This is an interesting thought. My Adele was invited to one of her (disabled) classmate’s birthday party a few months ago. We were so excited because it was her very first invitation, ever. They very clearly specified, however, “no gifts, please”. The boy is six, has severe autism, and is significantly disabled (one has to be to be in Adele’s class at the special needs school). I was surprised, and I’m still not sure as to what the motivations behind that request were. It’s possible that it was to spare people the angst that you describe above. It’s also possible that his interests are so narrow or he must have toys he cannot swallow pieces of. At any rate, it seems like the best solution to both situations would be to have a conversation about the interests of the child. We compromised and bought a super fancy action-swingy card that went along with the theme of the party. I’m also a big fan of the power of the gift receipt.

  2. Words spoken from love! We learn things as we grow and sometimes we have to experience the “Before” before we can fully appreciate and understand the “Now”.

    As to the invitation received that stated “no gifts, please”, in my opinion, “the motivations behind that request” are most likely the parents way of saying, please come and celebrate our child’s special day. They ask for no gifts because the best gift of all is to give their son the gift of time spent with friends. They don’t want people to feel obligated to purchase something in order to come to the party, but rather know that they are welcome with no strings attached. Just time, just laughter, just friendship… which is priceless. Gifts are always nice, but sometimes the most important gift that can be given is “time”. If a wrapped gift or gift card is also given, I would think that it would be welcomed and appreciated, just not expected.

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