Guest Post by Justin L.
Justin L. joins the blog today to share some of his experience and thoughts from raising a son with Down Syndrome. Read what he has to say below.
“As a parent of a child who has Down syndrome, I have learned much about my son’s different abilities. As a result, I have also learned how to properly address him, his differences, and the differences of others. I am referring to ‘People First’ language. There has been a great deal of time and energy spent on removing unacceptable terminology and nomenclature from our vocabulary. While we have done amazing work in this area, we still have a good distance to go.
There is, however, the other end of the spectrum to consider. My son has Down Syndrome. Yes, he has certain requirements that are not typical, but they aren’t necessarily atypical. You might even call them special. But he isn’t a ‘Special Needs Child’, nor is he a ‘Down syndrome child’, or a ‘Down’s Kid’. He is a child. He is my son. He has Down syndrome. He is not defined by his different abilities. He doesn’t need a title because of these differences. I am his father. I am his parent. I have no special needs. Nor do I deserve a title for being a parent to a child with different abilities. ALL parents (those who do the job) already have a title. ‘Parent’. I am not a ‘Special Needs Parent’. I am not a ‘Down syndrome Parent’. I am a parent. My son is not defined, or titled, by his different ability. Nor am I. If you ask me about him, I can tell you so many fine qualities and characteristics he possesses before I even get to the fact that he has Down syndrome. I am not defined, or titled, by my son’s different ability.
Being a father is high on my personal list of qualities and characteristics, but I don’t have to add my son’s genetic difference to that description. So why is this happening? I see it all the time. Folks going around like it’s a badge of honor or a special achievement. People competing for whose child has more special needs; whose child has more difficult special needs; who does more, goes further, works harder for their child. Parenthood is not a competition. By making it so, the emphasis is placed on the parent’s performance, when it should be placed on the individual child’s success and happiness in life. Parenthood is a job; a duty; a labor of love. I feel if my son is healthy, happy, and successful in his journey through life, then I have done my job. He is an amazing person. And that is the only badge or trophy I need.”
Justin has important insight for everyone as he has lived through these experiences. You can read more thoughts on this on our blog post, “People First Language”.
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Emma is a student-athlete at Purdue University majoring in Kinesiology and on the cross country and track and field teams. She has been involved in the special needs community for many years as a coach with Special Olympics Minnesota, and as a personal care assistant/respite sitter. She has worked in media, marketing, and journalism with various organizations. When Emma has some free time, she enjoys riding horses (she grew up doing barrel racing), baking doughnuts and cake pops (yum!), pursuing her new art interest (wood burning, painting, or drawing), or going for a long fun in sunny weather (her favorite!).