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“He’s a little Down’s boy isn’t he?”

Posted in Attitudes to disability, Personal by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on December 30, 2009

Since we received the diagnosis that G would be born with Down’s syndrome one of the things I have feared most, to be completely honest, is the comments that would be made by complete strangers. I have read and heard some horrendous stories of strangers feeling the need to pass comment on the fact that a child has Down’s syndrome – offering the parent pity or unwelcome advice (or insults).

It took 15 months, but recently while out Christmas shopping I had my first experience of someone commenting on the fact that G has Down’s syndrome. Not just anyone, but the type of complete stranger I fear most: the kindly old lady (KOL).

I am used to be stopped by KOLs while out shopping since they are naturally attracted to babies/children and their favourite variety is one with ginger hair. They swarm around J’s “orange hair” (as he like’s to call it) like bees around honey.

Attracted as usual to J’s personal Belisha beacon this particular KOL quickly moved on to G and his lack of gingerness before surprising me by asking “he’s a little Down’s boy isn’t he?”

The question was so matter-of-fact that I could only respond in the same way. “Yes he is,” I replied.

The KOL told me all about the group of teenagers with Down’s syndrome that goes to her local swimming pool and “really enjoy themselves” (a bit random, a bit patronising but she meant well and I was still too disarmed by the fact that I was talking to a complete stranger about Down’s syndrome to do anything other than smile and nod).

“So he’ll have a few challenges when he’s older,” she continued, before adding something about how he didn’t seem too badly effected. I don’t really remember what I offered in response to that. Again her tone was so matter-of-fact that the comment seemed entirely reasonable thing to say.

So that was my first experience of discussing the fact that G has Down’s syndrome with a complete stranger in public. Something tells me it won’t be our last. Especially if we keep going shopping with J.

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3 Responses

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  1. starrlife said, on December 31, 2009 at 12:27 am

    I suppose one could think about it as we are ambassadors and offer positive impact on others consciousness. It is hard to think on your feet but it’s okay to gently educate or give people better ways of framing their thoughts. The sweeping generalizations are hard to deal with. “They’re so easygoing aren’t they?” can just as easily turn into “they’re so stubborn and slow”. Quite a dilemma…. Believe me- it will not be your last.

  2. Jen said, on December 31, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    One of my first encounters with a KOL while shopping was a truly positive one. She saw me across the store, holding Ainsley to my shoulder. She came over, patted Ainsley on the back and simply said, “I had a sister. She lived longer than the doctors saidshe would and died only a few years ago.” She was sweet and didn’t attempt to offer condolences, advice, congratulations, or sympathy. And it was great!

  3. Julie said, on February 11, 2010 at 5:11 am

    The worst comment that I get is “Oh I’m so sorry for you”. I have my response to that memorized by now as I hear it so often. I simply say “I’m not! I only wish more people could be as lucky as we are to have been chosen to care for such a special human being. I thank God for such a privilege every day.” Another thing I hear quite frequently is that “Oh they are just so loveable!” While that is true of my Joseph it still makes it sound as if he is part of some “group” of people that are programmed to all look and behave the same. It takes away from his individuality and from his unique qualities as a person. However, I wonder what I would say if it were me on the other side of things? After much deliberation I’ve concluded that I would probably say “Oh he’s so cute!” and leave it at that. I just have to keep reminding myself that these people are not specially trained on how to present questions and comments without causing offense. I have learned to give them a break and realize that in their own way, they are just acknowledging the fact that yes, my son has down syndrome. Yes he is different. Yes we may have more challenges than we would if Joseph had one less chromosome. But I want everyone out there to know. Please don’t tell me you’re sorry that my son has down syndrome. I have been blessed with the most precious, pure, loving, intelligent, handsome boy that God could have ever given me. I am thankful that I was chosen to be his mom.


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