In the last issue of CCL’s Family Foundations, Linda Kracht wrote a great column about parenting a child with special needs. “We parents of children with special needs are looking for help and not really getting it!” she said.
“We need people to stop staring when we walk down the street.
“We need parents to readily and openly explain about our special needs children to their children.
“We need people to stop and give a friendly hello when they are curious or unsure.”
As I read, the answer to the question to tell or not to tell? crystallized for me. The answer is: YES. The only way to break down the walls is to talk about it! Not to throw the information out there with an air of tragedy, pleading for sympathy…but simply, without fuss, a matter-of-fact statement of reality to remove the awkwardness.
Because it is awkward. Every time I say, “She has Down’s,” there’s an instant clearing of the facial expression across from me. Inevitably the person nods knowingly and says, “Oh, yes,” as if to imply, I knew that. But I always wonder if they really do, or if they’re just trying not to look clueless.
Either way, until I acknowledge Down syndrome aloud, there is a damper on communication—because no one will ever ask. It’s like saying to a woman, “Are you pregnant?” You just don’t do it. The unspoken question is a wall all its own. Break down the wall, and the other person can speak without fear of offending.
“What’s your daughter’s name?”
“She’s cute! How old is she?”
“Thank you! She’s just now two.”
Hesitation. Unspoken question. “Is…is she walking yet?”
Opening. “No, not yet. She’s close, but she has Down’s, and the average age for Down’s kids to walk is 2.” Topic introduced, without drama.
Frankly, I love those conversations. In the last two years, I’ve had the opportunity to teach dozens of people about Down syndrome. It’s like those commercials: “Information: the anti-drug.” Except in this case, I would say it’s the anti-fear monger. While the grownups are talking delays, eye doctors, and inclusion, my daughter is working her magic—smiling, giggling, flirting. She’s enchanting. No one is immune from her charms.
So—parents, if you struggle with the question “to tell or not to tell,” I encourage you to go ahead. Talk about it! We often fear that talking about it draws attention to what makes our children different. But they are different, and as such, they have been given a special opportunity to evangelize, if you will, about the innate beauty of life. Acknowledging the difference allows us, and our children, to put a human face on Down’s. Lack of understanding breeds fear, and fear breeds a 90% abortion rate. The truth will set us free.