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By Valle Dwight
Aidan’s differences are a little subtle to young children. He has all his limbs, he walks and talks (though not clearly), and he plays just like them. When we go to the playground, I can sense as other kids become aware of Aidan. They stop what they’re doing and watch him for a minute or two. They’re scoping him out, trying to figure out “What’s different here?”
Some of them walk up to him and ask him to play; they’re attracted to him, or they want to get a closer look. In any case, they are not afraid. Many bypass him and come straight to me: “How old is he?” is a typical first question. Usually I gently remind them that Aidan is standing right next to me and that they should ask him. The kids are often surprised (but pleased) when they ask and Aidan tells them how old he is.
Later on, if the child still is curious about Aidan, I give a brief explanation: “He has Down syndrome, which means it will take him longer to walk and talk, and sometimes it’s harder for him. But he will do these things. People are born with Down syndrome — you can’t catch it.” Usually that’s all they need to hear, and they’re perfectly satisfied.
At school, where he has been in a regular classroom since kindergarten, Aidan’s classmates have come to know him as just a boy, no longer “the boy with Down syndrome.” They look beyond his differences to see what we see: a kid who loves reading Harry Potter, telling jokes, shooting hoops, playing the guitar, and bugging his big brother.
Chances are your kid has a classmate with a disability, so now is a good time to talk about differences in people:
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