One of my commenters recently shared a link to this article:
In all honesty, I’m not sure I understand all the outrage. I mean, I do – I do understand the hurt feelings and the disappointment being experienced by this teen and his family – but I guess I don’t actually agree with it.
You know what my first thought was when I read the article? Probably not what you might expect it would be from a parent of a child with Down syndrome. My first thought was, “This kid never should have been on the football team in the first place.”
See, here’s the thing: I don’t want my kid to be anybody’s mascot. These feel-good stories you come across from time to time about the kid with Down syndrome being on the high school water polo team, or being crowned Homecoming King . . . those stories always make me wonder. And they always leave a slightly unpleasant taste in my mouth.
The article in question says, “. . . a student with Down Syndrome who would suit up and cheer during every varsity game, eventually earning the right to lead the team onto the field and run a touchdown play after every game. He even scored one official touchdown in a game.” Wow. He even scored one official touchdown in a game! That’s so great. It’s so heartwarming how the community gets to feel like such do-gooders over this kid, isn’t it?
Yeah, well, no thanks. To me, this represents another form of marginalization and dehumanization. If my kid is going to be in the club, or on the team, I want it to be on his own merits and abilities – not as some charity case of inclusion that affords everyone around him an opportunity to give themselves a collective pat on the back for being so big that they can get past the fact that he has Down syndrome (gasp!).
And the truth is, the fact that he has Down syndrome will necessarily preclude him from being able to do certain things. I can accept that, and I’d like to think that my husband and I are raising all of our kids with realistic expectations – lofty goals, yes, but also the ability to accept whatever limitations they might have (and they all have limitations – we all do) and deal with them with grace and dignity. I do not want Finn to grow up receiving or expecting all kinds of special treatment just because he has Down syndrome. This is a separate issue, in my mind, from making accommodations for him to receive an equal education with his typical peers. Yes, I want to see him fully included in a typical public school so that he can received the same education his brothers and sisters are receiving, and so he can benefit from non-disabled role models, but I don’t want him to be the token disabled kid, included in extracurricular activities as an act of charity.
Whether this kid on the football team should be allowed to continue as a “full-fledged” (ha! he was never really a full-fledged team member, now was he?) team member, I can’t say. It seems to me, from the article, anyway, that the school is between a rock and a hard place, and that it has attempted to handle the situation as sensitively as possible. Part of me thinks, well, yeah, if the kid is still actually enrolled as a high school senior, then the age limit shouldn’t apply. On the other hand, because of his age, he gets to do things – like vote (yes, a person with Down syndrome can vote) – that his underage classmates cannot do. It is a slippery slope when the rules are bent to accommodate people with special needs like this as a matter of charity, and I, for one, am not completely in favor of it. I want my kid to be respected and valued for who he is as a person. When he starts being treated “special,” that’s just another form of discrimination.