A little neighbor girl rang the doorbell this evening. Our doorbell rarely rings and so when it did, we assumed it was either UPS or our son, having difficulty manipulating our stubborn front doorknob again. Rather, we opened the door to find the little neighbor girl standing there. She very politely asked if our daughter, Cassidy, could come out to play.
Cassidy just so happens to have a third twenty-first chromosome, or Down syndrome, in layman’s terms. But that didn’t matter a lick to the little girl from down the street. All that mattered to her was that Cassidy is nice and fun and eager to play. And play they did. By the end of the evening our house had become the neighborhood hangout, with bikes of every kind left scattered in the driveway as kids ran from front yard to back, bouncing balls and making enough noise to raise the dead.
This isn’t exactly the scene I expected when--fourteen years ago—my baby girl was diagnosed with Down syndrome. It is, though, exactly the kind of scene I had hoped for.
We live in a school district where my daughter—and other kids with intellectual disabilities—are included in a classroom with typically-developing peers. For the most part, the kids in our district are nothing short of awesome. My daughter has a loyal friend group that she enjoys eating lunch with once each week. Their lunch dates go beyond eating, though. During these lunches, these amazing kids model appropriate social interactions and behaviors. They take pride in their roles as peer mentors, as they should. And Cassidy? Well, she tends to rise to the occasion.
As I type these words, I am watching Cassidy through the window. She has recruited one of the neighbor boys from school to join in on the rambunctious fun. She coaxes him to the artificial turf in our backyard and begs that he dance with her. I can tell that this eighth grade young man isn’t entirely thrilled at the prospect, but he humors her, holding her hands and spinning her around again and again. Her persistence outlives his willingness to participate, but after short breaks he continues to go back and engage Cassidy, rather than allow her feelings to be hurt in the slightest.
Earlier this week, there was a national push to end the R-word (retarded). It’s a worthwhile campaign because indeed there are some folks who still insist on degrading people with so hurtful a word. From where I sit, though, we’ve made great strides. The view out my window—the boy twirling my girl in the yard—is proof enough.