We celebrated World Down Syndrome Day at school on 3/21.The day was established in 2012 by the UN; last year we marked it with Kypa's photography being in a photo exhibit in New York City. This year, I thought it would be a good idea to celebrate this day at school with all of Kypa's friends. After talking to Kypa's teacher and asking if I could bring in a snack that day, the idea blew up into a grand event thanks to the typical behavior of Kypa's teacher going above and beyond expectations. He coordinated a $2 dress down day for the staff in order to raise funds for the Down Syndrome Advocacy Foundation, the whole school was encouraged to wear blue and yellow (the DS awareness colors), and the K-Kids (Kiwanis Club Kids) made posters to hang around the school to raise awareness.
I brought in awareness stickers for the whole school and my good friend (whose son has been in class with Kypa for two years) and I baked cupcakes decorated with yellow and blue frosting for the entire first grade to have as a snack during lunch as a way to make the day memorable for Kypa's classmates. I was also invited to participate in a "secret reader" type activity in the classroom to read a book and answer any questions the kids had. I was a bit nervous about the questions part, and I failed miserably at encouraging any questions because I was worried that I might get too choked up or something.
I picked a book called Common Threads: Celebrating Life with Down Syndrome. It's a compilation of pictures, stories and quotes about and by people with Down syndrome. Here's a picture of the cover and it can be purchased here:
I specifically chose stories that I felt would move the class. I chose the story about a "special tomato" (in a nutshell that tomatoes that look different still taste the same) that was contributed by a girl with Down syndrome and hilariously, when Ms. Miller (Kypa's regular ed teacher) said that we're all special tomatoes in our own way, one of the boys kept insisting that he was not a tomato. Five minutes later, as part of a different conversation, he broke in with - But I'm still not a special tomato.
I also chose pictures that portrayed friendship - specifically between typically developing children and a child with Down syndrome. What struck me the most was that Kypa's classmates were completely unimpressed! AS I showed thses pictures to his class, and as Ms. Miller asked the kids to share things they think are special about Kypa, they participated, but with an overwhelming vibe of - so what? One of Kypa's friends put it best - "You know, even if you have Down syndrome, you can still have a ton of friends." Another said - "You can still have fun if you have Down syndrome." For them, it was like, what's so special about Kypa and why do we have to give him all this attention? I got the feeling that all the kids were thinking - Kypa's Kypa, we love him, and there's nothing special about that.
They don't realize (and I wasn't about to break it to them) that their relationship is so special, and we adults apply our limitations and perceptions on our children, and are amazed when our children have flown way beyond them without us even knowing. We were raised and formed by different stereotypes and beliefs, and we are amazed by the bonds we see being cultivated. They don't care though; I left that classroom so uplifted, and I didn't tell the class that there are people who don't feel like them. There may come a day when they may need to make a choice; will they defend Kypa in middle school? Will they continue to see him as the friend he is now? I don't know, but I do know that we need to learn from them- our children - and strive for a time when the whole world feels like Kypa's classmates: that we all have our challenges, and Kypa is just another kid that happens to have challenges; until there's a time when we won't have to have an awareness day.