The Question I Wish People Would Stop Asking About My Son With Down Syndrome

A few weeks ago I sat at a table with some new friends. We eventually got to the topic of my kids. “How many do you have? What are their names? Show me pictures!” I pull out the phone to pick my favorite, out of the eight million I take, then pass it around the table. They say my daughter, Charlie, is my mini-me. They say my son, Leo, has an infectious smile. They ooh, they aww, just like society taught them to do. Inevitably I hear…

What’s wrong with him?”

Madison holding her son.

I’ll tell you what it is like as the mom to hear this question. It slaps you in the face. I was sitting around a table sharing food, stories, wine and friendship. Enjoying the brief escape from doctor’s appointments, therapy sessions, sleep studies, and the constant stream of worry that often comes from having a child with a disability. Those four words hearken me back to reality. I am reminded of why I advocate for inclusion in schools.

Madison's son in an inclusive classroom.

It is my belief that if schools practiced inclusion, this question would stop being asked. The word “retarded” would stop being used as a derogatory term. “What’s wrong with him?” would become “What’s his name?” Different should not equate to exclusion. For most, school is the first time we interact with a group of peers. That first group of peers usually look, learn and behave exactly as we do. If that first group was comprised of all kinds of kids with all kinds of abilities, imagine the impact that would make on who you surround yourself with, who you become friends with, who you grow up to hire, even how you ask a new friend about her son who is different?

Society needs more diversity, more kindness, more empathy and more awareness. Awareness leads to Inclusion. Inclusion leads to acceptance. Acceptance leads to the kind of world I want my kids to grow up in.

Madison's son in an inclusive classroom.

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