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“What’s wrong with her?” My Daughter’s First Experience with Being Different

My daughter is growing up right before my eyes. She’s becoming more independent despite her physical limitations. She was born with Down syndrome and has physical and developmental delays. She’s nonverbal, hard of hearing, and has decreased motor skills for a child her age. But as “different” as she is, I try to keep her active and involved with other children, those with and without disabilities. We’ve been to the park on numerous occasions, and when I saw an event that was tailored to children her age, I thought that would be great; a playground visit where we didn’t have to watch out for the big kids. We packed a bag and headed out.

different at the playground

It was such a beautiful day for a park visit. And this park was the best. It had a shade over the playground area and plenty of grass to run around, plus it was gated! I was able to sit down and let her roam free without worrying much about her safety. My baby was enjoying herself and talking her language (mostly grunts and screams). I watched her struggle to climb the stairs and keep her balance. I was close but allowed her to fall and try again.

We were in our own little world when I heard it: “What’s wrong with her mommy?” My heart dropped. What do I do? What do I say? How should I feel? I never thought about what to do in a situation like this?

I don’t see her as different. I can usually interpret her wants and needs. She’s learning sign language. I’ve grown accustomed to her Down syndrome features, and she’s one of the most beautiful little girls in the world to me. I didn’t think about the stares she would get as she got older. I haven’t given much thought about her being accepted into social circles with kids her age. We spend a lot of time with members of our family and other families with kids with disabilities so it’s never been an issue. And then when they’re young, all they want to do is play…talking and interacting isn’t a thing. But now it is.

As my mind raced, deciding on which emotion to pick – angry, sad, or indifferent, I took a good long look at my daughter. She was smiling and having fun just walking back and forth across the little bridge. She didn’t care about what was going on around her; she was just being her. She was comfortable in her space, with her disability. And that made me smile. I thought about all the challenges she faced just to survive and my heart was full of pride. I remembered how proud I am to be her mom. She reminded me that we all have something that makes us different and it’s not up to us to make people accept that. It is up to them to appreciate what makes us special. And if they don’t…no problem. We all have a the freedom of choice.

So on that beautiful sunny day at the park I chose to be calm, I chose to be happy, I chose to be open. If the little girl would have asked me about my daughter, I would have explained things to her in a way that she could understand. Now, I don’t know what the mom said to her, if anything, but I do hope she chose the same path. Not every situation my daughter comes across requires me to automatically get into defense mode.

Not all battles require fighting. I am in a position to educate others about something we live with every single day.

I have people come up to me all the time and introduce themselves and their child with Down syndrome. We swap stories and words of encouragement. I’m blessed to be a part of the DS community. So, if I have the opportunity to reach out and show others that my daughter may be different but not less, then I will do it every chance I get. So my answer to the question would be:

My daughter has Down syndrome and she can’t talk, but she loves to play and would love to play with you. 

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