Warning - it's time again for one of my occasional slightly serious posts! Bear with me...
I have 2 sisters. One would be considered "normal" by society's standards and the other considered "different." Let's call her "P". Since October is Down Syndrome awareness month, I'll tell you a little about P. Yes, that means she has Down Syndrome and she is mentally retarded. She is in her mid-30's and lives in a group home in Montana.
I'll tell you about childhood with P another day. I'll be honest - it was tough and they didn't have near as many services and/or programs for mainstreaming as they do today. My mother suffered from mental illness and my parents divorced - all adding to difficulties with P.
But now - P is a productive and fairly happy adult. Three of the behavioral characteristics with Down Syndrome are: having a very loving nature, being strong-willed/stubborn, and thriving on routine. All three are very true of my sister P!
She is so loving - everybody loves her and thinks she is amusing. She always has a hug for you (unless you've totally annoyed her!) and gets very excited about things like going to lunch, the latest teen magazine, and visitors. She gives a friendly hello to all those she knows around town. And she tells me that if nothing else works out, she will be marrying the guy from the car wash. Poor guy - probably didn't realize that by telling her "maybe someday", he would be locked in! :)
She truly is strong-willed and stubborn. If P doesn't get her way, she will pout and cross her arms. She might even give you the silent treatment for a bit. She has definite opinions on things and wants you to agree with her. P has my Dad wrapped around her little finger and he will do most things that she asks for. I don't let her get away with as much when I see her because she is still just a sister to me!
She really does thrive on routine. P lives in a group home where she has her own room and helps with cooking and chores. She also goes with the group to work everyday and works on different jobs for the community. P currently does shredding. She is also involved in Special Olympics (swimming and bowling) and other fun activities with her group. My Dad picks P up and takes her to his house for 2-3 days every holiday. She loves it but is always very happy to get back to her place and her routine. There is no tearful goodbye - she walks off to see her friends and barely even waves!
I see P every summer when we go to visit and we always take her out to lunch. She is happy to see us and enjoys the little bit of time we spend together. But she is always just as happy to get back to what she was doing when we got there. We kiss and hug and tell her that we'll send pictures.
That's just a little about P's life. You might be surprised to find out how many people you know are related to or know somebody with Down Syndrome. Most people (including me) don't bring it up in casual conversation. Maybe we should.
Let me get up on my soapbox here (doesn't happen often on my blog!) and say that I am shocked and appalled to discover that at least 90% of women in the US who find out that they are pregnant with a Down Syndrome baby have their pregnancy terminated! Babies are being killed simply for having Down Syndrome? (I know, babies are even being killed for lesser reasons). My mother would never have had an abortion even knowing the trials that she would experience with my sister - and I am sure that she experienced far more trials with me - a "normal" child.
If my mother had had an abortion, I would have been deprived of a wonderful sister who is a very productive member of society and brings joy not only to her family, but to her friends and even perfect strangers. She is a blessing! I also would not have learned much about disabilities or that being "different" is OK. We are all different!
You can ask P if she has a good life - she will tell you yes! Just because her life is different than mine doesn't mean that it isn't good. And for those that say people with Down Syndrome will use a lot of resources - if you call teen magazines, Crocs, and hamburgers with lots of ketchup a lot of resources (bought with money from her own paycheck)- then I guess you are right.
I discovered this website a few months ago: Reece's Rainbow, a nonprofit helping people to adopt international orphaned Down Syndrome children. What a wonderful cause! I pray that all these children will get adopted.
It's time we start realizing that ALL life is precious with value and purpose - none of us are perfect. If you find out that you are pregnant with a Down Syndrome baby - first I would say that you have been specially blessed, but I would also encourage you to talk to parents of Down's children before you make any decision that you will regret.
OK - off of soapbox now. :) Thanks for sticking with me through a serious post!
Do you know somebody with Down Syndrome?