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The Transformative Power of Including Those with Down Syndrome

In the early 20th century, societal understanding of cognitive disabilities was extremely limited. When a child like Evan, my wife’s relative, was born with Down syndrome, the standard medical practice was to immediately institutionalized. Doctors operated under the belief that those with disabilities required isolation for their own care and for the good of society. 

So when Evan entered the world, his parents were told he would be whisked away to a state-run institution. But in a remarkably bold move, Evan’s parents refused. They brought their new baby home, determined to raise him alongside his siblings. Keeping Evan out of an institution was unheard of at the time, but his parents deeply believed he deserved a full life with his loving family.

Evan was nurtured at home for over two decades. But later in Evan’s life, after his parents passed away, he did end up entering an adult care facility. Tragically, within ten years, he passed away. Though details are scarce, losing the only family he had ever known must have been hugely traumatic.  

Evan’s story represents the broader societal exclusion of those with cognitive differences. For too long, we isolated and shut away anyone considered “other” or “abnormal.” But attitudes have slowly evolved. And while we still have work to do, understanding and empowering those with these special abilities has come a long way. Evan’s parents were ahead of their time in perceiving his right to belong. And there is much hope ahead as we continue opening our communities to the differently abled.

THE IMPORTANCE OF SOCIAL INCLUSION

The truth is, our communities need people like Evan. We all stand to benefit by including and embracing individuals with Down syndrome or other disabilities. They have so much to offer – fresh perspectives, contagious joy, and the profound power to open minds and hearts. At the end of the day, those with unique abilities often gift the rest of us with invaluable lessons in humanity. By letting them share their lives and abilities, we allow their voices to shape society into something better.

The joy expressed by those with special abilities has the capacity to be contagious. How many times have you felt dark clouds lift after a simple smile from an individual with Down syndrome? The purity of spirit often emanating from those unjaded by societal conditioning has the power to lift heavy spirits.

Beyond shifting mindsets and lightening hearts, embracing diverse abilities holds profound potential to spur personal growth. By letting those with cognitive differences share their lives and abilities, we allow their voices to shape our own identities into something better. Spend meaningful time with a person with a disability, and you’ll walk away examining your own behaviors, privilege, and purpose.  

MY LIFE CHANGED BY BEAU’S JOY

I learned this firsthand back in 1997 during my senior year of high school. At our end-of-year assembly, a classmate named Beau Walton received a surprise scholarship. Beau was beloved, but he faced struggles most students didn’t. He had limited mobility in one arm, walked with a noticeable limp, and learning was extremely difficult for him. Yet every day, he tackled school with remarkable perseverance and positivity.

When Beau’s name was announced at the assembly, we all clapped confused but excited for our classmate. As Beau walked across the stage to accept his award, tears welled up in his eyes. In that powerful moment, the entire student body leaped to their feet to cheer Beau on.  Beau raised his hand high in triumph, proud of the work he was able to accomplish.  

Witnessing Beau’s pure, unrestrained joy was life-changing. His pride and passion moved me deeply, and I found myself choking back my own tears, completely overwhelmed with inspiration. In Beau’s shining face, I saw life’s boundless potential – all that can happen when we embrace each person’s special abilities. Beau taught me invaluable lessons that continue to impact how I view others to this day.

SHARING SPECIAL ABILITIES BENEFITS SOCIETY 

I was reminded of the transformative power of special abilities during a recent trip to Armenia. My wife Andrea and I visited a remarkable institution that empowers adults with disabilities through art. Residents work with clay, crafting stunningly vibrant pottery. The soulful environment provides the perfect space for incredible individuals to express their talents. 

While visiting we met three charming women who had lived their entire lives at the institution. These women proudly showed us their creations. Their enthusiasm and joy radiated as they described different pieces and demonstrated techniques. The studio was filled with vibrant energy as the women explained their creative process and I was thrilled to have been able to meet them and feel the joy and excitement that radiated from them.

However, I was saddened by the realization that these women, with their beaming smiles and contagious laughter had been hidden behind the walls of this institution for so long. They were brought to the orphanage as small children and were unfortunately never adopted by a loving family willing to help them shine their light. Even though the institution where they lived was a good place for them to receive the support they needed, I couldn’t help but think how much better their lives could have been if they had been adopted and were able to grow up with a loving family.

I also thought about the joy I felt when I met them. Their welcoming spirit, their creative fire, their beaming light, my wife and I were blessed to be able to experience that. Still, because of their circumstances, there were so many who would never get the opportunity to meet them and experience what we were able to. Imagine the incredible light and love they could bring to a family, a community, and a nation that will never be realized because of their circumstances. 

There are so many bright, shining stars that are hidden and will never be able to fully let their light shine and impact the world as they are divinely appointed to do. The world needs people like Beau, Evan, and the Armenian potters. Their lives inspire others and by supporting and empowering them to share their abilities, they can transform those around them and inspire so many to become the best versions of themselves. 

We all have gifts, no matter our capacity. I hope that the amazing people entrusted with special abilities will all have the opportunity to let their light shine bright. Because I know that as they are empowered to do so, they will bless the lives of so many others. There are so many shining stars waiting to inspire the world through the safety and care of a loving family. They just need the opportunity to do so.

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