Down Syndrome: Listening as AcceptancePosted: October 25, 2013
She looked at LP carefully and my throat caught a little. Here we go. I made myself smile.
“So… he has Down syndrome?”
From here, it usually goes few ways:
Awkward, nervous babble with a high likelihood of devolving into something hurtful or insulting. Or, a connecting story of someone else’s experience with disability or Down syndrome. Those connecting stories are sometimes amazing. Sometimes they suck. (Hint: If it starts to sound like one of those “I have a black friend” moments, then it is best to stop and reconsider.) Then there is the twenty questions game. Will he walk? Talk? Eat? Understand?
What actually happened, I did not expect.
“So tell me… What is it like?”
Thunk. I was floored.
Like negative space surrounding an object, what that mom didn’t say let her question stand alone without assumption or judgment. She wanted to know what he was like, what our life was like, no footnotes or edits.
So I told her what it was like for us. I told her that things may change down the road, but for now our lives were filled with extraordinary ordinariness. I tried to explain that there was no one experience of Down syndrome. We talked about homebirth and breastfeeding, the powerful strength that assumption can have on a child’s future. She smiled at LP and there was no pity in her face. Maybe she was secretly thinking something hurtful or unkind, but I wouldn’t know, because she listened more than she spoke.
That mother accepted all I had to say without question, simply because it was my experience. Listening, in and of itself, can be an act of acceptance, when it is undertaken with no agenda.
If there were more people listening like that mother in the park, I wouldn’t worry so much about my son’s future.