Today I called up a fairly “fresh” parent whose newborn has Down syndrome. I wanted to invite the couple to the celebration a young man with Down syndrome is making on completing the study of Mishna Mesechat Shabbat. This is no small feat, and a few years ago he successfully finished a different portion, and knew it well.
Her reaction was: “What, he can talk? He can walk?!”
Now it would be one thing to blame this on poor information given to the parents, doctors with outdated information, etc. But it just so happens, that I remember talking to this mother a few months ago, over the phone, at length. Somehow, the message didn’t get through, and I don’t suspect my delivery. Some parents really have trouble believing the GOOD things about our children. I have one mother I have been talking to for two years already, and she still finds it hard to believe that her son can progress. Coupled with the fact that she does not take him to early intervention therapy, her son’s chances for am optimal life are slim. She is making a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
The big question is, what causes this type of attitude? An encounter years ago with a low-functioning child? Grandparental attitudes? A feeling that one is deserving of “punishment”, or unable to be successful? There is no way to know. But I do know that those of us active in outreach to new parents have to be aware of the possibility of these types of reactions. We have to try and stay in contact with the parents, encouraging them, and coercing them a bit, until they see for themselves, that yes, kids with Down syndrome do talk. And walk. And a world of a lot more.