Many of we parents in the Down syndrome community waited eagerly for the segment that was to air this evening on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams: a piece about the suddenly famous Ryan Langston, the little boy with Down syndrome in the recent Target and Nordstrom ads that have been a hot topic on blogs, Facebook, and elsewhere.
I caught the segment on the internet after it had aired. I, like so many other people, had anticipated a wholly moving and inspiring piece, a glimpse into this wondrous but average little boy’s life. And on the surface, that’s what we got.
To some, to many, any press is good press. And I wondered, as I watched and felt something like a stone sink in the pit of my stomach, “Am I overreacting? Am I being nitpicky? Am I the only one who’s watching this and feels like crying?”
Ryan Langston is a beautiful little boy with lots of energy, a mop of blond hair, lots of talent and a sense of humor, two parents who adore him, a twin brother (who does not have Ds), and a penchant for knowing exactly what to do for a camera. And this news segment was going to highlight the very normalcy of a little boy with Down syndrome. So what about this whole thing could possibly be getting me down?
Here, you watch:
Did you pick up on it? The part where Anne Thompson informs us that Ryan “attends a school for Down syndrome children . . . .”?
Why is it so difficult for People First Language to take hold for folks? I would like to think that a news outfit like NBC would do their homework before scripting a newscast that is meant to be an advocacy piece. How could a simple thing like appropriate terminology be overlooked?
But even more disheartening was hearing that this talented, smart little boy, who, as the news piece pointed out, can do so many of the things that most “average” kids his age can do – and some things most cannot do, like rock a Nordstrom ad – does not attend a regular school like most kids – like his twin brother – but instead, a separate school. A special school. A school for Down syndrome children.
I make no judgment against Ryan’s parents. I do not claim to know the circumstances that led to Ryan’s enrollment in a separate special ed school. It was just a very strange juxtaposition: a celebration of a child who is showing the world that Down syndrome is not so different, but a child who is separated, segregated nonetheless.
It hurts my heart. I don’t want that for Finn. I want Finn, and all children and people with Down syndrome to be fully accepted, embraced, and included. I want them to be welcomed to live and play and work and walk – and, yes, learn – alongside everyone else.
Is that ever going to happen?