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That Sympathy Smile

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Down Syndrome Awareness Day came and went last month on March 21. 3/21 — get it? Three copies of the 21st chromosome. :-)

siblings

And this morning I woke up and needed a rant. So I figured what better place to do it than on my blog and then share it across social media… Obviously!

So here we go…

You see, I have three kids. Mr 9, Miss 8 and Mr 6. All sweet, adorable, loving, moody little snot balls. Who I adore and wouldn’t have them any other way. They are all similar in height even with their age gaps, so when we are all out together I regularly have people ask — are they triplets?

They all have striking blue eyes — their Dad’s — and huge smiles and most of the time, but it can depend on the day, I feel blessed to be their Mum.

Another thing people often do when they see us is they zone in on Mr 9. You see Mr 9 has Down syndrome. He is a sweet child, with that cute smile and innocence that people assume kids with Down syndrome have. He will often look up and smile at them and say "hi." The person who approached us tilts their head to the side and looks at me, then they give me that smile. You know — that "sympathy" smile, which is half "wow, that must be so hard for you, I am sorry" and half "oh he’s so cute." Like they are looking at a puppy.

Then I usually get the — "Oh, kids with Down syndrome are so loving. He must be such a kind boy. Is he great with his siblings?"

Depending on my mood and the amount of time I have, highly depends on what path the conversation takes from here…

If I am in a rush or generally couldn’t be bothered to speak to them, it will go something like this.

Me: head tilt back, smile – "yes… thank you."

I walk away.

If however, I have time and I am in a mood, maybe they are the third person today that has given me that "sympathy" smile or the kids are being feral wild animals and my patience is at breaking point, the response might be more like this…

Me: return head tilt and smile – "Yes. he can be lovely, and he is also a complete little shit at times. He fights with his siblings more than the other two fight with each other so no, he isn’t always lovely. In fact, sometimes he can be a royal pain in the arse with no manners and quite rude."

Don’t worry, I don’t stop there…

Still me: "You know not all kids with Down syndrome are the same. It is a stereotype and I am sure you would not like to be stereotyped. And I am sure when he finds his voice it would probably sound something like – 'Can everyone SHUT UP!'"

And then I pause. Look at them and say – "But of course, he is awesome and we love him, Have a nice day." And then I exit the inevitable awkward silence.

You see, my son is not Down syndrome. First and foremost he is Mr 9. He is Master T Biskup. He has his own unique personality.

  • He loves Superman, like totally obsessed.
  • He loves to read "Captain Underpants" books.
  • He also loves to run around as "Captain Underpants" in underwear and a cape. And nothing else…
  • He will do anything for a laugh.
  • He loves to eat rice and pizza and sometimes together.
  • He will not eat a piece of fruit, no matter how much I beg or bribe him.
  • He loves swimming.
  • He hates doctors.
  • He hates the shower, but we can’t get him out once we get him in.
  • He LOVES torturing his sister by wearing her shoes and then parading around the house in them.
  • He LOVES torturing his brother… usually all it takes is eye contact and they will break out into a fight.
  • He is an excellent judge of character and can have you sussed out in five minutes flat. He has a built-in radar for kindness and love and if he doesn’t like you, he is very clear about it.
  • He loves to draw and colour in.
  • He HATES to clean up and pick up after himself.
  • He will give you the dirty eye if you cross him and he won’t forgive you for a long time.
  • He will throw a tantrum minimum once a day.
  • He loves to snuggle every morning and will come into my room around 6 a.m. and greet me with a "Good morning, Mum," while scratching at his penis and pumping out a little fart.
  • He loves to play with his friends.
  • He loves his siblings and will punch anyone that hurts them – he has actually done this at a birthday party. I was so f&$king proud!

So PLEASE, when you next see a family or a parent with their child and they have a disability, don’t tilt your head give the "sympathetic" smile and proceed to stereotype them. Speak to the child, not just to the parent. Ask the child – What is your name? How are you today? Do you like school?

Then, if we happen to cross paths – even on a bad day – after you have spoken to Mr 9 he will respond, with his own unique voice and I might add with a smile –

"Thank you, he is still working on his speech, but he just said – 'Hi, my name is Torryn, I am good. Thank you.'"

Sinead

Xxxxx

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