Are individuals with Down syndrome always happy? Ummm, no, not really!
Individuals with Down syndrome have feelings just like anyone else. They experience the full range of emotions. They respond to positive expressions of friendship, and are hurt and upset by inconsiderate behavior.
Since Peter rushed into the world, I have had the chance to meet or observe individuals with Down syndrome of all ages. They are not all happy and outgoing. There is one young man at the grocery store that I have yet been able to get to smile. He honestly gives me a look that says, “Lady, if you don’t stop looking at me with that too-friendly smile, I’m calling 911!”
On one hand I have seen the individuals that are shy and reserved, very quiet and avoid eye contact. On the other hand the very friendly, the “let me give you a hug to relieve any stress and ask you about your day” type. And then many that fall somewhere in the middle. This same personality mix exists in all age and socio-economic categories.
Although, as a Ds community, we stress that individuals with Down syndrome are more alike than different, my Mama heart also believes in a magical quality that many hold in their hearts. The best party EVER, was a dance party at a Down syndrome conference I attended. There was not one square inch of dance floor free. The dancing, joy, laughter, hugging, celebrating was contagious….but almost more so was the love of others.
And that is what I think the extra 21st chromosome holds – the super power of love and kindness towards others. This genetic super material gives their owners super-vision. Not the 20/20 vision, but rather the vision to see the world through the lens of simplicity and beauty, that makes focusing on what really matters so much more obvious. We all need some of that super power!
Individuals with Down syndrome have a genuineness about them that they retain. So no matter what emotion they are demonstrating, it is a genuine feeling. They also exhibit an almost unnatural concern for those around them. A genuine interest, appreciation, and kindness towards others.
Peter’s extra chromosome runs in overdrive most of the time, but let me tell you, as he gets older it doesn’t kick into gear first thing in the morning unless you let him quietly rejoin the world at his own speed. If Peter needs to be woken up for school, that extra chromosome of magic doesn’t wake up at the same pace. Zombie boy will say “NO!” and only “NO!” as he stumbles around for a few minutes, avoiding anyone in his path. Then BANG, that super-power kicks in and all of a sudden big smile, excited “Mama!” followed by a hug that says, “I missed you while I slept and I am never letting you go”. Except, he does let go because everyone in the family gets the same lets-get-this-day-started treatment. When he spots the bus, it is the same excited reaction every morning. When the bus driver welcomes him, his excited reaction is one that never takes any one moment for granted. He genuinely and excitedly cherishes every interaction as if it were the only time…..even thought it happens every day. His nature is to welcome the world with a smile. Every single day.
I know that Peter is behind his typical peers, and shucks, he is behind most of his peers with Down syndrome in many ways. Sometimes it hurts to see how hard things are for him to do. Actually, a lot of the time it hurts because it seems so horribly unfair that someone who gives so much should struggle so hard. A wise nurse once told me, “This isn’t hard for Peter, it is only hard for you. Peter knows no life different than the one he is living, and he loves it.” She is right. Peter measures success by getting you to interact with him, and him getting you to smile. Throw in a hug, and the deal is sealed, you just had a stellar experience together. As that extra chromosome shuts down at night, I know Peter celebrates the success of each day by the joy he brought others. Peter gives so much, and the rest of us struggle to keep up. Living in joy isn’t hard for Peter, it is only hard for most of us.