Having a child with Down syndrome is challenging, for sure. But raising a child with special needs has brought many blessings into my life as well. I am especially thankful for the kindness we have received within the Down syndrome community and our community-at-large. I know this kindness existed prior to Evelyn. The world didn’t become kinder, I just became aware of the kindness that existed around me.
Prior to Evelyn’s birth, I kept to myself. I had a few close friends, but I wasn’t interested in forming more relationships. I didn’t see the point. But when Evelyn was born, I longed to connect with people who would understand what I was going through and not judge me for the the feelings I was experiencing. This need drove me out of my comfort zone and into the social arena. I attended playgroups and Mom’s Night Out. I joined online groups for parents of children with Ds and other disabilities. I shared my true self with other parents, and they shared theirs. Because I was open to meeting new people, I have been introduced to so many kind, thoughtful, supportive parents. Yes, these people were out there all along, and Down syndrome gave me the push I needed to go out and find them. This change carried over to all areas of my life, which is now full of kind people.
Having Evelyn changed my perception of people with disabilities. Previously, I would have been apprehensive about approaching people with intellectual disabilities – worried that I would say or do the wrong thing, offend them and embarrass myself. As a result, I didn’t interact with people with disabilities. I now understand that people with disabilities are the same as everyone else. Yes, some people might be offended when I put my foot in my mouth, disability or not, but most people will give me the benefit of the doubt. I am lucky enough to interact with people with Down syndrome frequently through my work, and I am thankful for all of the kind words, gestures and hugs I’ve received, and everything they have been patient enough to teach me (like how to use instagram, and the art of comedic timing).
And the strangers! So many people go out of their way to share kind words and smiles with Evelyn. Complete strangers make the effort to let her know they welcome and accept her.
All of this was there, waiting to be discovered. I just didn’t bother looking for it before Evelyn. I’ve been given a fantastic gift – a change in perspective. I’ve been able to slow down and appreciate all the kindness around me. And when a person gets a chance to experience kindness, its natural to want to pass it on. It’s a fundamental shift to want to share that gift with someone else.
Tomorrow is World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD), a global awareness day that is officially recognized by the United Nations and is dedicated to raising awareness and promoting acceptance of people with Down syndrome. This year, to celebrate WDSD, our family will be teaming up with our local Down Syndrome Association to commit Random Acts of Kindness throughout or community. I believe that our small acts will create that fundamental change, a ripple effect as people go about their day, seeing the kindness around them and passing it along to others. I think it’s the perfect way to honor someone who opened my eyes to the kindness around me. Maybe tomorrow, we can all make an effort to notice that kindness, great and small, and pass it on to someone else. I think you will find, at the end of the day, that your world feels a little bit brighter.
Photo credit: Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan