I was raised in Mexico in an area where they didn't have a special education program for children with disabilities. They didn't have the medical facilities nor the money to provide such. I was fortunate enough to know a family who's son had Down Syndrome. The parents did not institutionalize him as the doctors recommended. They kept him at home and did the best they could to care for him. They loved him. They brought him to church and allowed him to be active in the community. He could walk, ride a bike, swim, smile, laugh and hug. Boy could he hug! I received many of those strong hugs. He wasn't verbal in the sense that you could understand him very well but he could understand some of the things you said to him. When going to his house he could understand whether you wanted to see his mom or dad. He would ride his bike to the corner store and purchase candy and snacks. His parents had set up an account for him and he was allotted a certain amount of treats a day. We lived in a farming community and this young man's dad took him along to work. His dad took him everywhere. In fact, I don't even recall seeing the father with the son.
One time a field caught fire and this boy was missing. The community gathered together to fight the fire and find the boy. He was found safe and I believe he was unaware of any danger. I still remember the relief I felt when I found out he was safe. I worried about him. I didn't know if he would understand the danger or if he would know how to get away from the fire. Would he become disoriented? Would he be afraid? What a relief that he was safe. Safe and loved.
This boy was a few years older than I but he had two cousins who were my age and so the boy attended church classes and activities with us. I don't recall exactly how old I was when this special young man died but I do remember that our age group was asked to sing at his funeral. We sang a song called: Families Can Be Together Forever. We were honored to sing at the funeral and we sang with all our hearts, with tears in our eyes and on our cheeks. One thing that impressed me the most was how many people this young man had touched in his short life. The chapel was full of mourners so they opened the over-flow area. That quickly filled up so the back cultural hall was opened. There was standing room only as people filled that area and both of the foyers were full as well. As I stood and sang with my friends in front of all those people I knew that this was a very special boy. I was so fortunate to know him and his family.
One boy with Down Syndrome touched so many lives. One family who wouldn't listen to the "experts" and kept their beautiful son at home and loved him. One community who didn't see this boy's disabilities - only his abilities. How I wish every community, every family and every child with a disability could live this way.