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Challenge: Kids with Special Needs

In Response to The Today Show’s coverage of the Shawn Johnson East Pregnancy “Scare”

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I was not going to write about this, but if you aren’t involved in the Ds community, you may have not heard this story.

Former Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson and her husband are expecting a baby, and they’ve been sharing their journey through vlogs. At their 20 week ultrasound, the doctors saw two markers that can be indicative of Down syndrome. However, after further genetic testing, they received the news that their baby is “healthy.”

Let me explain that I don’t fault Shawn or her husband for their reactions: their tears and fear or their celebration when receiving the “good” news. Their emotions were what most parents experience. I know I prayed that our son would not have Ds while we waited for the genetic tests both before (negative) and after he was born (positive). I did these things because, like this couple, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

The issue I have with this segment is that The Today Show produced this segment centered around a couple celebrating not having a child with Down syndrome. In this news story, a baby with Ds equals “unhealthy” and one without equals “healthy. There was no mention about the full and meaningful lives people with Ds can and do lead in today’s society. Just an “uplifting” story about a pregnancy “scare.”

Can you imagine if someone who has a child, teenager, or adult with Ds in their family watched this show with that family member? How would they explain the cheers and celebration of a couple finding out their baby would not be like them?

This segment further marginalized one of the most marginalized groups of people in our society, and it sends a message of fear to expecting mothers who may be faced with the decision of continuing or terminating a pregnancy.

If you don’t have a child with special needs, it may be hard to understand the gut-punch that comes every time I hear of someone celebrating not having a child like mine. I’m borrowing this quote again from a blogger: “It’s hard having a child that other people actively don’t want.” (

Are there different challenges that Down syndrome brings? Absolutely. The road is not always smooth or straight, but my child and his peers are worthy of life and celebration, too.


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