Twice this week I read about some young woman who is friends with a young man with Down syndrome. That’s the whole story? Seriously?
The most recent example is Jennifer Lawrence –as of today an Academy Award winner–who has a friend with Down syndrome. I thought Silver Lining Playbook was a Hollywood-type love story – meaning impossible to believe – but I loved it and her in it. I am glad she got the Oscar. She deserved it.
What she does not deserve is getting credit for having a friend with Down syndrome. Or as Radar online described him – “… her Down syndrome friend”.
The article went on to elaborate – “Andy is such a devoted fan he’s dressing up in her honor to watch the Academy Awards on TV!”
That statement smacks of enthusiasm usually reserved for a small child rather than an almost adult and somehow it conveys this as an unusual occurrence. Here’s the thing – I know grown adults who dress up big time for Oscar parties in their own homes and they don’t know anyone personally getting an award. How fucking childlike are they?
They also quoted him upon hearing of her Oscar win – “I will say ‘Yay! Yay! Yay! ‘[And I] will have to be calmed down.” I say the same thing about five times a day and my husband has been known to say, “Calm down.” Or “Not right now.” Enthusiasm is a gift. Not like a “special person gift”. Just a regular old gift.
Today on my Facebook feed a post I first saw last year popped up – “Girl takes boy with Down syndrome to the prom!” At least they got the person first language right. I tried to find the origin of the story but I could only find a re-posting. Most of the replies to it were how great she is for committing a selfless act. The best response was – “Who cares if he has Down syndrome? He’s still going to look at her boobs.”
This phenomenon doesn’t exist just in the celebrity or the social media realm. Two different parents reached out to Ward and I this school year to let us know their children wanted to be Thorin’s friend.
This extending of friendship feels more like “outreach” and it’s accompanied by a lot of smiling and exuberance – “Isn’t great! They really like him!” (Forget if he likes them.)
You can tell they were proud of the fact their children liked Thorin. Proud of the fact they have taken any interest in him. I get this feeling I am going to be asked to write college references for these kids later.
Hopefully by that time being friends with someone who has Down syndrome will not be noteworthy.
Thank you so much for saying what I’ve wanted to say for so long. Why is it news when someone with a disability is treated like a “regular” person? Why do people feel compelled to take credit for befriending or defending someone with a disability? Isn’t it enough for them to just have this experience? Do they really want credit for it? Are they earning gold stars for their crowns in heaven? Good grief, people! It’s like saying, “Look at me! Admire me! I’m so openminded that I’ll even pay attention to this little kid with Down syndrome! Aren’t I a good person?” Ridiculous!
Exactly! Glad to know I am on the right track. Thanks!
Excellent post! Most news stories that feature a person with DS make me cringe for the reasons you’ve noted. I’ve actually had those same thoughts about Carrigain being a line on someone’s college essay. Cynical, but not outside the realm of possibility in our achievement driven culture. I love your last line though, and I will join you in that hope!
I think that hope is possible. Especially with more parents saying something:) Thanks!
Love that you said enthusiasm is a regular ole gift. Well said. I am making an effort with the first person language, but know I have messed it up before. I suppose it’s the same for people with all sorts of challenges. I know I hated being the “cancer patient,” and much preferred “person with cancer.” The post rocked, as always.
Yes. My thoughts fucking exactly. If we keep pushing this ‘People with Ds are different, but that’s okay’ without making sure that we also include ‘but EVERYONE is different’ this will keep happening over and over. We’re going from hatred and institutionalization straight to kind condescension and charitable marginalization and still firmly avoiding true acceptance and inclusion.
If we don’t stay on top of just exactly how Ds is talked about and how it is portrayed we are letting our children down and never really going anywhere.
Good intentions just kill me.
That’s why we are here, right? “still firmly avoiding true acceptance and inclusion.” I think you are right – that’s the obstacle.
Just came across your blog tonight!!! Love it !!!! As a mom of a super charming and handsome 19 year old who requires 24/7 assistance due to his disability… I’m so glad to have found someone I can laugh out loud to as I de stress with my Appletini after a day of working up a sweat just to get his shoes and socks on him before the bus comes then rush work then pick him up at aftercare hoping he’ll walk to the car without sitting on every single bench between the two, etc etc….. O yeah and I swear too
Yay! Kindred spirit!