There is a little alleyway myself and Mini pass through when the grey Galway skies hold firm enough to allow us to walk to the shops without fear of a thorough soaking. There is a a retired woman who either through her own initiative and finances or- and I’m hoping this is more the case although I’m not holding my breath-following the instruction of the city council, works tirelessly clearing weeds, planting new grass and flowers and generally making the final stretch of the pathway a very pleasant place for a wander.
She seems like a very nice woman and always greats Mini with plenty of smiles and enthusiastic cries of how well she perceives Mini to be doing, ending with her professing how well my daughter seems to be progressing. All well and good. Except that yesterday she asked a question that was far removed from her usual queries as to what age Mini is and the obligatory is she sleeping through the night? No yesterday, as Mini was toddling along and I was doing my best to mentally steer her away from the mounds of freshly dug earth( she is not the biggest fan of holding hands), the woman paused to greet us, while resting on her rake and uttered the words
” Are you her carer?”
Initially I was too shocked to respond and eventually managed to mumble out “um, no I’m her….mother.” The rest of the conversation passed in a bit a of a blur with the woman once again repeating her mantra of “she’s doing great isn’t she?” and me nodding and awkwardly trying to move Mini forward. I know she meant no harm in asking the question but in a flash she had relegated Mini from a normal child enjoying a walk to the shops with her mother to an individual needing the constant care of a professional.
Therein lies the rub-the fact of the matter is that Mini does not require much more looking after than a “normal” child her age. She eats without much assistance, she plays with other children, responds well to the supervision of adults. She certainly does not require a carer. She could spend Monday to Friday in the creche if I chose to work full time. But, as she wears her disability on her face for all to see-in her almond shaped eyes, button nose, tiny ears and rounded cheeks- she is judged accordingly and it seems the worst case scenario is often decided to be the case.
Really what I should have done was spend some time with this woman and educated her accordingly. People with Down syndrome are not all cut from the same cloth so to speak and they possess a wide range of abilities but only recently has their potential begun to be unlocked through early intervention services and a suspension of previously held prejudices. What I want for Mini is to be a child first and foremost and to be judged for who she is and what she is capable of achieving, not for her disability. Yes she is different but so is every child and just like every child, she deserves to be treated with dignity not prejudice. Take her for what she is, not from what you’ve read about or heard that she is likely to be.