My older sister, Leanne, has Down syndrome so there was never a day in my life that I lived outside of the Down syndrome community. Down syndrome was as natural to me as breathing. It was comfortable. It was familiar.
There was never any process where I had to learn to accept Leanne and her diagnosis; she was a part of my family since the day I entered the world and as younger siblings tend to do, I thought my older sibling was the coolest person ever.
When I left home and went away to college, I truly missed my sister and the special needs community so I sought out employment and volunteer options that would allow me to remain involved with individuals with special needs.
Being a part of the Down syndrome community was such a positive experience for me that when it came time to start a family of my own, adopting a baby with Down syndrome felt like the natural place to start.
Call me naïve, but it really wasn't until I re-entered the special needs community as a parent, that I realized how many people did not share my overwhelmingly positive impression of individuals with disabilities.
It was hurtful to experience the negative attitudes that exist out there. So many people still see individuals like my sister and daughter as flawed; like they somehow fall short of what constitutes an ideal human being. It's as though society has this standard of perfection and Leanne and Josie don't meet it.
And it's really hard for me to accept this attitude. I can't accept it. I don't accept it. Here's why: because I KNOW better! Trust me, in this life, there are more questions than there are answers but this is one thing that I can speak of with 100% certainty: People with special needs are made in God's image, purposefully created exactly as He intended them to be. And just like everyone else, people with special needs have strengths, weaknesses, and gifts to share with the world.
My sister and my daughter are not genetic blunders. They do not represent an unfulfilled promise of a perfect human being. They are exactly who they were created to be and they deserve acceptance and appreciation.
Who determines what "perfection" is anyway? What does perfect skin look like? What is the ideal eye color and shape? What should the perfect voice sound like? What length, color, and texture comprise the perfect hair? The answers to these questions are both subjective and insignificant. And if you spend your time dwelling on these qualities, you're missing out on the truly important qualities that people have to offer.
You know who could care less about superficial ideals of perfection? Leanne. With everyone she meets, she defaults to love and acceptance. You drive a junky car? She doesn't care. Your clothes aren't designer? She could care less. You don't have a prestigious education and a glamorous career? That doesn't make you the least bit inferior in her book.
You use a wheelchair because your legs are paralyzed? She might be curious as to why you're in a wheelchair. She'll probably ask. And when you respond, she will accept it and move on without pity or judgment. If you need help, she'll be the first to jump up and help you. Just like she'd help anyone. Because she is a sincere, kind, and open-hearted person.
We all know what a ridiculously materialistic rat race this world can be. That's why it's so refreshing to be able to get away from that nonsense and hang out with people who are genuine; people who are not afraid to be themselves. How wonderful would it be to walk into a room and know that everyone automatically defaults to accepting and appreciating you?
That's what it's like to grow up in the special needs community. That's an opportunity that I'm thrilled to be able to offer to my daughters. That's a view of the world I wish everyone could experience. That's how I KNOW that Leanne and Josie are perfect just the way they are, and that life is better because they're in it.