Disabilities do not come in one size fits all

I met a delightful 11-year-old Down syndrome child the other day. To my old eyes she is significantly outrunning Down syndrome stereotypes. She reads, reasons and is observant as a detective.

She is markedly different from my 35-year-old Down syndrome son Jason. Jason doesn’t read, can’t count his “monies” and can’t handle more than two concepts at a time. However, Jason has an incredible advantage over most of his peers in that he is incredibly savvy. Jason just “gets it” and is incredibly quick with funny comments and insights.

All of which reminds me again of something I think many  often forget: Down syndrome and all cognitively delayed persons are as varied in their abilities and interests as the rest of the population. We’d play heck defining normal intelligence and there is no such thing as a normal Down syndrome person. The range of intelligence is incredibly wide in any room of the general population just as it is in the cognitive disability community.

The other part of that stereotype which always frustrates me is that all Down syndrome people are cuddly, lovable and docile. I can barely contain my anger sometimes when I perceive, underline that word perceive, that DS kids are being treated as “pets.” I have found that just like the general population Jason has his moods and there are times he simply doesn’t fulfill those stereotypical expectations of cuddliness. There can be a little snarl to him. When I see that I celebrate his individuality.

We do a horrible disservice when we attach expectations to the disabled. That’s our baggage speaking and those judgments probably say more about us than the disabled person.

One thought on “Disabilities do not come in one size fits all

  1. My mom’s best friend had a daughter, Amanda, who was basically my sister growing up. She was cognitively delayed. She had a rare chromosome disorder, one of just a few people in the world known to have this particular disorder. Doctors said she’d never be able to walk, talk, eat on her own or attend school. Of course, Amanda, just as sweet as she was feisty, had other ideas about all that.

    While her disability was similar to Down Syndrome, it was also very different. When I’d tell people about Amanda, they’d ask, “So is she ‘a Downs’ or is she autistic?” My typical answer was, “She’s an Amanda.”

    I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to be loved by someone with a cognitive disability. I feel that it has changed me as a person (and likely as a journalist) for the better. I’ve realized that all people, regardless of disability, culture or creed, are incredibly unique and to group them as one is an injustice to all.

    Thank you for sharing that message, so eloquently, on your blog.

    Amanda developed a brain tumor and passed away three years ago in October, but she would have been 23 this past weekend. She’s been weighing heavy on my mind, so I could not have stumbled upon your post at a more perfect moment.

    I haven’t met Jason, but just hearing you talk about him I know that he must be just as much of a blessing to you as Amanda was to me. We’re the lucky ones.


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