“If you want to know what people really think about kids with Down syndrome, tell someone you’re thinking of getting one.” Kari Wagner-Peck recalls the responses she received when she and her husband decided to adopt a 2-year-old little boy with Down syndrome. “No one said anything close to ‘Hey, awesome!’” It was more like, ‘Why do you want to do that to yourself?’ or ‘That sounds hard’ or ‘Don’t do that, please.’” Kari’s experience is a testimony to the disheartening mindset of our society.
Unfortunately, misconceptions about Down syndrome are rampant. Much of our culture devalues life and views them to be somehow less-than-human. And the consequences are devastating. When given a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, 90 percent of parents choose to abort their child. Let that sink in. Nine out of ten of these special babies are never even given a chance to live outside the womb. We’re missing out on amazing lives that would’ve made a sunny and positive difference in our world.
Kari is a writer for the Huffington Post parenting column and in it she admits that she doesn’t talk about her son’s adoption very often. The focus of the conversation always seems to turn away from her son as an individual to focus solely on the subject of Down syndrome. She’s felt uncomfortable when someone “thanks” her for adopting her son. She says, “It assumes a couple of things: that ‘normal’ children are better and somehow we have made some kind of sacrifice having ‘a less-than child.’” To Kari, her son (who she doesn’t name) has always been an extraordinary boy who persevered in spite of the neglect he endured in the earliest part of his life. Even before she met him—when all she had was a photograph—his face is the one she cherished. As she was questioned during the adoption process, she answered the family services inquiries simply and matter-of-factly, “We just know he’s the one.”
Five years later, Kari met a new challenge—how to tell her 7-year-old son that he has Down syndrome. It was something she had debated in her mind, wondering how to find the right words to explain it to a child. She remembers the anxiety that she felt as she prepared to tell him. As she watched him from across the room, she thought, “This is the last minute he doesn’t know he has Down syndrome.” The conversation that took place can’t help but bring a smile to your face.
“Have you ever heard the words ‘Down syndrome?’” Kari asked.
“No,” he said.
“Ok, ok. Have you ever felt like you were different from other people?”
“No,” he said in an almost indignant tone.
“Ok. Well, I want to tell you something. Yeah… you… have a super power. It’s called Down syndrome.”
Clearly, this would capture the attention of any young boy with a love of all things superhero. She went on to explain how Down syndrome gave him almond-shaped eyes and an adorable flat nose. Then she shared that his super powers were his big love, his gift for photography and boyish humor. And as the father of four sons, I can relate to this next one; she also included farting. I loved teaching my boys that fun game of pulling my… oh, I see I’ve gotten off topic.
I envision this young boy strapping on a large bath towel for his cape and standing on something high so he could more easily leap into the sky to save others from some dastardly villain. He’s faster than a speeding bullet at capturing your heart; more powerful than a locomotive when it comes to totally obliterating the myths and stereotypes with his obvious smarts and abilities. His x-ray vision allows him to read your mind so he knows that moment when you need a hug the most.
Yes, this young boy has a great start in life. His parents’ guidance focuses on his abilities, not on what he cannot do. Kari says, “My contention has been our son is not that different from ‘typically’ developing peers. My husband and I do not see Down syndrome as a defining characteristic, but one of many our son embodies.” She concludes with a thought-provoking statement, “Our son exists in the world in spite of how someone else feels about him. That goes for all people with Down syndrome.”
Those who have a bargain basement value for “lesser” forms of life would have you believe that children with Down syndrome are unwanted and a burden. They perpetuate the lie that killing them in the womb is an act of mercy. We have a responsibility to refute this manipulation that continues to fuel a culture of death. Learn more about Down syndrome awareness at our website. Through education and support , precious lives will be saved. And we’ll be blessed to enjoy the super powers that each of these individuals bring to life. If we’re lucky, we’ll someday get to strap on our bath towel capes with one of these superheroes.
With appreciation for all LIFE,
Life Issues Institute