Sometimes people praise me for my patience or express sympathy for my “situation” when they find out my son has Down syndrome. While we’ve confronted so many obstacles together as a family, the one person in my life who has always been a source of inspiration, strength, and growth is my son, Christopher. He has been the one who lifts me whenever I am down, the person who transformed me into the disability advocate that I am today.
Some people say or the birth of a child with a disability is a family tragedy, an occasion that devastates the family, takes them down a road less traveled, and may even hold family members from achieving their goals. Yes, parts of this can often be true, but from my perspective, bringing a special needs child into the family unit can also spark a kind of family joy and unity that is most unexpected as the family comes together with love. I became a non-profit fundraiser, a disability speaker, and now an author because my son inspired me. Christopher, his love & strength, made me who I am today. This process began from the moment
when I gave birth to him and after his early diagnosis of Down syndrome.
His doctors told us to take Christopher home and that he needed us. And, of course, he did need us! But like the Ann Murray song, we soon found that we needed him so very much more than he needed us. My son is a teacher who tirelessly lives and loves despite dealing with multiple disabilities and severe medical conditions. He doesn’t care about material things, fancy clothes, or the next exciting car. He does care about love, experiences, fun, and family. Those are the all-valuable lessons he teaches everyone who encounters him.
After Christopher was diagnosed, his doctors told us about all of the things he wouldn’t do during his life. They didn’t prepare us for everything that he would do and everything he would inspire. Parents of children without disabilities will never have the same experiences of transformative love that we have had because Christopher is in our lives.
As a disability advocate and a mother inspired by her son, I know that disability is so much more than a lack of abilities. This does not mean that Down syndrome does not come with real challenges. Christopher and other kids like him deal with issues that would bring most of us to our knees. And yet, Christopher is comfortable in his skin. He is brave and loving. He does not judge others, and he is open to new experiences. He is kind and courageous, and he sacrifices for others. He even once saved a toddler from drowning. He saved me too. And he never gives up, no matter what he faces.
Sometimes parents have visions for their kids who aren’t even born yet. They think about their future careers and goals. Of course, this is normal; people want those they love to succeed. However, Christopher has taught me the many different meanings of success. It is true that he may never be a doctor, physicist, scientist or lawyer (taking that back – he may be a lawyer!), but the world is a better place because he is in it, and all of our lives have been enriched by the opportunity to share it with him.
Down syndrome can happen to anyone, and a child with a disability can be a part of any family. Over the years, we faced a great deal of prejudice from people and, especially, governments who wanted to see him as a burden rather than a contributor. However, ignorance is not the same thing as bigotry; people can learn, and even governments can change. Christopher has been a part of making some significant changes happen. When you welcome a child with disabilities into your family, you are walking a new path that can only teach you to see beauty in everything and find inspiration that had previously gone unnoticed.
Christopher and his heart are one of a kind; we need more like him.