I am the younger sister to a man who has Down syndrome. I've refrained from writing about it until now since everyone who knows me is aware of this fact, however this month is different. You see, October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month and people are sharing how their family member with Down syndrome defies society's expectations. So for this article, I'm going to take the time to tell you guys about my brother, Rion.
Being the second child, I never knew any different than having a brother with special needs. My brother was my playmate, my best friend, and my family; that was all. I never saw him as being different and to be honest I don't think I really thought of him as having special needs. To me, he was just a person. I recall my mom taking Rion and I to the park one day when we were kids and some of the other kids kept staring at my brother. While I never would've noticed, my mom was quick to notice and I remember hearing her explain to them why Rion looks so different from them. Still, to me he was just a normal person.
While I came to recognize later in life that my brother is mentally challenged, my thoughts on him didn't change. We always had the typical sibling relationship: we fought, I bossed him around, and he tattled on me for being the annoying little sister quite frequently. With that, I made a point to never treat Rion as anything less than human. The way I chose to treat Rion is the way I would treat anyone. When he gets lazy and claims he can't perform a simple task (such as picking up something small and moving it), I tell him he is capable of the task and I don't budge until he does it. You may be thinking that I'm awful for this, but I can assure you that it's been the best thing for him. In having higher (yet realistic) expectations for Rion, he has acquired the ability to do for himself and to not be totally dependent upon his family. He does his own laundry, makes lunch for himself, and even got into a college program for adults with special needs. I don't think any of that would've been possible if he hadn't learned to apply himself as he has.
Furthermore, my brother has had a full life in his almost-23-years. I haven't met anyone with quite the luck that my big brother has. The example that immediately comes to mind is his acceptance into Clemson LIFE, a collegiate program for special needs adults focusing on teaching life skills. His getting into the program wasn't luck, but what happened after that was. My mom videoed my brother's reaction to getting his acceptance letter, and the video has over 2 million views on YouTube. People from all over the world were congratulating Rion and showing so much support. The video wound up gathering so much attention that my family was contacted with two forms of exciting news: his video was such an inspiration that through it (without entering a contest) we had won a VIP trip to the Orange Bowl that year AND (unrelated from the Orange Bowl) Google was wanting to use a clip from my brother's video for one of their commercials! It was a crazy time that was spurred from my brother simply being himself and winning over the hearts of the entire world. Not many people can share in that accomplishment.
I am a sister to a man with Down syndrome. Don't feel sorry for him; his life is richer than any of ours. Don't place limits upon his strengths because he very well may prove you wrong. Above all, never assume that having a family member with special needs is something to pity. If not for him, I wouldn't have become the loving and accepting person I am today. Here's to Down syndrome awareness, making you aware of the truth.