Despite an increase in public discourse and media attention in the past few years, Down syndrome itself is still largely misunderstood by the general public. Most people do not have an accurate idea of what it is like to raise a child with Ds today. Early intervention, improved health screenings and treatments, inclusion in mainstream classrooms and in society—along with a greater understanding of the potential and worth of individuals with Ds—have contributed to a better life and brighter future for those with Ds. Yet misconceptions and inaccuracies abound not only within our schools and neighborhoods, but also within the medical community.
I am committed to getting accurate information and our real-life experience out there circulating in the world outside our home. I want others to know all that Bridget is and all she has brought to our lives.
It seems like common sense, but apparently it is not: expectant parents deserve up-to-date, unbiased and balanced information about the condition (delivered in a considerate manner), although many are still offered inaccurate information which paints a dim picture of the life and potential of people with Ds. (People are shocked to hear of the incredibly high termination rates of Down syndrome pregnancies--estimated between 90-95% of those prenatally diagnosed--but it seems that many expectant parents are making choices based on limited information and stereotypes which unfairly highlight potential challenges in the life of a person with Down syndrome rather than highlighting the potential in the person.)
Reading about Down syndrome or learning about the condition in the absence of a person with the diagnosis is not seeing the whole picture. When Bridget was born, we knew very little about Down syndrome. We were initially told many things that may be true for some people with Ds, but are not the reality for us. Now Bridget is the one doing the teaching. And we are listening...closely.
We have learned so much from Bridget in these past three years. The following is taken from an article I wrote for our local board of developmental disabilities:
Seeing the Possibility in Bridget
Three years ago, our family was sitting in a hospital room with heavy hearts, looking at a beautiful little girl in a tiny bed and wondering what challenges she would face.
When Bridget was a newborn, we learned about Down syndrome through what we read or were told by others. As Bridget has grown, she’s shown us all far more about herself—as well as Down syndrome, and what it’s like to live with a disability—than any textbook or person could have.
Bridget does not see herself as challenged. She is just a kid—being and doing. Like everyone else, Bridget has her own set of skills and challenges. Like everyone else, she is also full of dimension and potential.
Today, Bridget is a happy, healthy and secure three-year-old who continues to reach milestones on her own terms. She’s growing, learning new things, making friends and developing and a strong sense of herself. She is taking her first steps toward independence.
A few weeks ago, I helped Bridget climb up the stairs onto a school bus for her first day of preschool in our local school system. She is thriving.
Bridget is aware and energetic, with the whole world ahead of her. And although we are excited to see what’s in store for Bridget, we are not in a hurry to see where she’s going or even how she will get there. With a little extra support, she’ll make her way. And we will enjoy the journey right along with her.
Bridget is opening hearts and minds daily. She's showing others that all people have abilities, and that our human value is not based on our achievements.
We realize that we won’t know all of Bridget’s capabilities unless we give her the chance to learn, to build relationships, to be part of the community and to live her own life in her own unique way.
A friend once said that when you’ve see the light in someone the world may reject—a person who doesn’t fit the mold of what society says is perfect, successful or beautiful—then you begin to see that light everywhere. We understand that clearly now.
Bridget is interesting and funny and talented, all in her own right. She deserves the chance to make her own way in this world.
We’ve learned to never underestimate Bridget. What we know now is that she is not only capable of far more than most people would think, but also that she is a joyful, important, contributing member of our family and of the community who makes life brighter for all of us.
Given encouragement and opportunity, the world is full of possibilities for Bridget--and for the rest of us.