I thought the best way to share my son’s talk to a high school class about having Down syndrome was to simply share his presentation. This talk was designed and written by Aaron himself. The only adaptation we did was to provide copies of the speaking notes to the students, in case they had challenges understanding his speech.
I asked Aaron if he was okay with me posting his slides and his speech on my blog. He said yes. (People with intellectual disabilities are capable of giving consent. The problem is that we rarely ask their permission, or we don’t ask it in a way that is understood).
Enough with the mom commentary! Here it is, standing strongly on its own.
Hello, I am the only cool kid in at this school who has Down syndrome. This is what I want you to know about Down syndrome.
There are many kinds of disabilities in the world. Down syndrome is but one of them. I was born in 2003. When my mom and dad made me, I had Down syndrome.
I have three copies of the 21st chromosome. I have 47 chromosomes all together. You guys have 46! I have more chromosomes than you!
How am I different?
My face looks different
I have low muscle tone
I need some help at school to learn
I am the same as you too. How I rock: I like dabbing/flossing, Fortnite, Nerf guns, luxury cars and sports.
What I want you to know is that respect is the key. Respect means I want to be treated the same as you. I just need a bit of extra help.
I am a human being like you.
Aaron delivered the presentation in a lively way, throwing in some jokes, demonstrating how he could bend his thumb back because of his low muscle tone and dabbing and flossing too. Amusingly, when he said I have more chromosomes than you, he added BOOM! IN YOUR FACE!
The students were very quiet. The only time I spoke up during his talk was to say: Aaron is a funny guy! It is okay to laugh. The permission to laugh with Aaron (instead of at him) seemed to help them relax.
I facilitated a question + answer session and there were thoughtful questions about stigma, independence, health concerns and the differences in education systems between provinces. I felt a bit desperate to show them that we have a rich and full life (because we do), so I ended up rambling too much. There are always lessons for me after every talk.
At the end, I made a request. I said if they saw kids from the Access Program (the school district’s ‘special ed’ program) in the hall, not to be afraid to go up and say hi or give a fist bump or high five. At least acknowledging people’s presence is a start on the long road to belonging.
I felt extremely proud of Aaron’s moxie. He stood up and spoke for himself. I was reminded how much he has to overcome to be a part of this world. I admire him so much. His ending comment: I am a human being just like you – offers up with great clarity, everything you need to know about Down syndrome.
Did the talk make a difference? I am not sure we will ever know for sure. But if one person in that class is even just a little less afraid of a disabled person, then Aaron’s job was well done.