My best friend worked at a day camp a few years ago. Thinking back, I remember her telling me about a couple of her favorite kids. After Cora was born she talked more about them. About their wacky, silly sense of humor, their enthusiasm and how much about them stuck with her over the years.
Oh yeah. They had Down syndrome.
She told me that she had a conversation with one of the boys when he told her how it was hard to be judged by the way you look.
I know that is a concern that many parents like me share. That our children will be judged by the differences written on their faces before they have made an impression as individuals.
I'm sure it will happen a lot. And as much as I hate thinking about it, the thought of Cora feeling that way about herself breaks my heart a little.
One could argue that having a disability (for lack of a better word) that is recognized by physical characteristics alone could have some benefits. Perhaps people will have more patience or understanding upon recognizing her difference. Maybe they will postpone judging.
But some will definitely judge faster based on what they see. Because the familiar characteristics of Down syndrome are definitely visible; like a brand, in a way. With that brand comes a lot of expectations, most of them low.
What you can't see in someone's facial features, though, are their talents, their gifts or the way they can shatter expectations. Expectations are rising all the time and people with DS are rising to meet them wherever you look.
From where I stand now, which is admittedly pretty early on in my intimate consideration of disability, the best way to gradually start to diminish the judgments has to be exposure. It starts in our communities, in our baby groups, and story times and baby signing classes. And it's critical in our schools.
As incredible as we know inclusion is for our children with disabilities, it's also so important for all the other children. Important for those small children to sit side-by-side with their peers with Down syndrome and autism and other differently-abled individuals. Important for them to have the opportunities to know people like Cora and to start to remove that insipid fear of the unknown.
I wish I would have had the chance to grow up in a community and in schools like that. I wish that it didn't take Cora's birth to make me realize that awareness, acceptance and support is so critical to all of us. But I am here now. And now I can do my little part to make sure that Cora is seen, that she is heard, that she is a part of her community.
I can't remove judgment from people's minds and hearts. I can't erase the fact that her diagnosis is written on her face. But I can continue to advocate for her, to give her the best opportunities I can and to help ensure that she is included; for the good of her and for the good of our society.