The Day My Brother With Down Syndrome Became A Viral Meme

The Day My Brother With Down Syndrome Became A Viral Meme

How one picture can hurt a community, family, and a sister.
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My brother is one of the greatest people you'll ever meet. He's 23 years old, charismatic, always optimistic, and hard-working. He's the guy that everyone in my hometown knows and loves regardless of who they are. Another thing you should know about my big brother is that he has Down Syndrome.

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Rion has pretty much always been accepted with his disability and never really had a problem with bullies. Everyone was his friend and he has always loved everyone regardless of their race, religion, and economic stature. Even strangers who would recognize him would be treated like a lifelong friend. In seeing how others have adored Rion growing up, it never really struck me that someone else would ever wish to cause him harm. That is, until the day that he became a viral meme.

The meme isn't worth posting in this article because it is demeaning beyond all measure. It makes fun of his disability with a photo of him in one of the most joyful moments of his life. The moment I'm referring to is the day he opened his acceptance letter into the Clemson LIFE program for special needs adults at Clemson University.

In the photo, his face was a total expression of joy and someone decided to take that and use it to mock him (see the photo below). I didn't know about the meme until I was contacted by two past classmates of mine from middle and high school. Both of them were absolutely appalled by the meme and had reported it. I was in shock initially, but then I became upset and angry. I didn't know who on this entire planet would ever wish to hurt my brother and it killed me that I was unable to detect who the meme creator was.

I wanted the creator of the meme to feel the weight of what he had done. I wanted him to come out from behind the security of his computer screen to face me in the real world because only then could he see the negative impact his cruel joke had upon so many people.

See also: My Brother Has Down Syndrome

Besides the unknown subject who created the meme, I was angry at the meme page and moreover angry with what I was seeing in the comments. People were tagging their friends and laughing at Rion. Over 3,000 people were ridiculing him.

Being the protective sister that I am, I commented on the picture and told them exactly what kind of guy they were making fun of. I told them of his zest for life and of his kind heart, of his desire to work two jobs even though it isn't necessary. I told them what they needed to know before making my brother into a public laughing stock. I'm not sure what happened after that because I proceeded to report and block the page.

Before I blocked it, I desperately searched for someone to stand up for him. In hundreds of comments mocking him (and I didn't scroll all the way), I found two people who had stood up for him. It pains me to know that we live in a society where those who are different are subjected to horrible treatment and malicious intents.

Though many of us tried to report the meme, Facebook wouldn't do a thing. If you're being cyberbullied, know that Facebook will not remove the post. It's really heartbreaking. However, I did learn something from this horrible experience. I learned that our hometown has a strong community who won't stand for my brother being messed with. So many people banded together and messaged the page itself expressing their anger towards them for what they had done.

Tongue Punching Memes for Festy Teens (as the page is named) wound up apologizing to my mom for any hurt they may have caused, though they still didn't see what was wrong with their actions. I'm grateful for a community of people who stand up for those with special needs. My brother doesn't know about the picture and our peers were very protective of him and refused to share it. No one wanted him to see it. But even if he doesn't know what everyone did out of loyalty to him, I know he's thankful for everyone unconditionally.

There is nothing shameful about Down Syndrome, nor autism, nor any disability. If anything, those who have disabilities are more evolved than us when it comes to feeling compassion, joy, love, and so many other beautiful characteristics. They will always be loved in my eyes, and hopefully in yours too.

Cover Image Credit: Molly Claire Holcombe

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To The Boy Who Will Love Me Next

If you can't understand these few things, leave before things get too involved
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To the boy that will love me next, I need you to know and understand things about me and my past. The things I have been though not only have shaped the person I’ve become, but also sometimes controls my life. In the past I’ve been used, abused, and taken for granted, and I want something real this time. The guys before you were just boys; they didn’t know how to treat me until it was too late. They didn’t understand how to love me, until I broke my own heart. Before you truly decide to love me I want you to understand these things.

When I tell you something, please listen.

I’m my own person, I want to be loved a certain way. If I ask you to come over and watch movies with me please do it, if I ask for you to leave me alone for a few hours because it’s a girl’s night please do it. I don’t just say things to hear my own voice, I say things to you because it’s important to my life and the way I want to be loved. I’m not a needy person when it comes to being loved and cared for, but I do ask for you to do the small things that I am say.

Forgive my past.

My past is not a pretty brick road, it is a highway that has a bunch of potholes and cracks in it. I have a lot of baggage, and most of it you won’t understand. But don’t let my past decided whether you want to love me or not. My past has helped form who I am today, but it does not define who I am. My past experiences might try and make an appearance every once in a while, but I will not go back to that person I once was, I will not return to all that hurt I once went though. When I say those things, I’m telling the complete and honest truth. I relive my past every day, somethings haunt me and somethings are good reminds. But for you to love me, I need you to accept my past, present and future.

I’m just another bro to the other guys.

I have always hung out with boys, I don’t fit in with the girl groups. I have 10 close girlfriends, but the majority of my friends are guy, but don’t let this scare you. If I wanted to be with one of my guy friends I would already be with him, and if you haven’t noticed I don’t want them because I’m with you. I will not lose my friendships with all my guy friends to be able to stay with you. I will not cut off ties because you don’t like my guy friends. I have lost too many buddies because of my ex-boyfriends and I promised myself I wouldn’t do that again. If you don’t like how many guy friends I have you can leave now. Don’t bother trying to date me if you can accept the fact I’m just another bro.

I might be a badass, but I actually have a big heart.

To a lot of people I come off to be a very crazy and wild girl. I will agree I can be crazy and wild, but I’m more than that. I’m independent, caring, responsible, understanding, forgiving, and so such more type of woman. Many people think that I’m a badass because I don’t take any negatively from anyone. Just like we learned when we were younger, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.” Most people can’t do that in today’s world, so I stick up for myself and my friends. I don’t care what anyone thinks about me, or their option on how I live my life. The only thing I care about is being able to make myself happy. Even though I’m an independent woman, understand that I do have a big heart. Honesty when I truly care for someone I will do just about anything they ask, but don’t take advantage of this. Once you take advantage of this part of me, all respect will be lost for you.

I’m hard to love.

Sometimes I want to be cuddle and get attention, and sometimes I don’t want you to talk to me for a couple hours. Sometimes I want you to take me out for a nice meal, but sometimes I want a home cooked meal. Every day is different for me, sometimes I change my mind every hour. My mood swings are terrible on certain days, and on those days you should probably just ignore me. I’m not easy to love, so you’ll either be willing to find a way to love me, or you’ll walk out like so many others have.

I’m scared.

I’m scared to love someone again. I’ve been hurt, heartbroken, and beat to the ground in my past relationships. I want to believe you are different, I want to hope things will truly work out, but every relationship has always ended up the same way. I’m scared to trust someone, put my whole heart into them, just to be left and heartbroken again. I sick and tired of putting my whole body and soul into someone for them to just leave when it is convenient for them. If you want to love me, understand it won’t be easy for me to love you back.

When “I’m done.”

When I say “I’m done” I honestly don’t mean that I’m done. When I say that it means I need and want you to fight for me, show me why you want to be with me. I need you to prove that I’m worth it and there’s no one else but me. If I was truly done, I would just walk away, and not come back. So if I ever tell you, “I’m done,” tell me all the reasons why I’m truly not done.

For the boy who will love me next, the work is cut out for you, you just have to be willing to do it. I’m not like other girls, I am my own person, and I will need to be treated as such. For the boy that will love me next, don’t bother with me unless you really want to be with me. I don’t have time to waste on you if you aren’t going to try and make something out of us. To the boy who will love me next, the last thing I would like to say is good luck, I have faith in you.

Cover Image Credit: Danielle Balint

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To The Older Sibling I Never Had, I Wish You Were Here To Guide Me

I know you don't exist, and I know you never will, but sometimes I catch myself imagining a life with you in it.

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Starting high school is a terrifying feeling and an insane transition when you don't have anyone to guide you through it. It was a mere 15-step walk to the door, and once I was inside my parents promised me there would be somebody there to help me find my classes, so why did I feel like I was being thrown straight into the gates of hell? I counted down the minutes until we pulled into the school parking lot and dreaded the sound of the car door opening and the anticipated start to the "best four years of my life."

As we were pulling up, I saw a girl who went to the same middle school as I followed her older brother, who was a senior through the front doors as if it had been rehearsed at home. At this moment, I would have given my right foot to walk in her shoes right behind an older brother just this once. Eventually, I just walked right inside.

Unfortunately, this would not be the last of my longing for guidance from the older sibling I've never had.

I get it, I got a B in math. I get it, if I would have spent last Friday night studying instead of out with my friends it is possible that I could have gotten an A. But, what my parents seemed to not get was that life actually does go on even if you get a B on a report card. Time doesn't stop, your dreams don't diminish, and you are still viewed as a fairly competent person.

Luckily for my younger sisters, it seems my parents eventually did get it at the cost of my phone being taken away for three months and my social life ceasing to exist for the rest of that school year. As I spent every Friday night at home studying I longed, for just this once, to have an older sibling who was willing to take this hit for me.

Why did nobody tell me that it's actually more fun to go to school dances with friends than the boy you barely know who is just desperate for some conversation with the opposite sex?

I always wondered why that girl I went to middle school with never took a date to any of our formals or homecomings. Eventually, four homecomings and two proms later, I realized that this was because stumbling through the awkward introductions to family, tolerating the completely posed and overdone photos that would never actually be posted anywhere because you didn't talk outside of this forced interaction, and small talk over fruit punch and loud music was never actually necessary. Of course, I passed this message to my younger sisters and saved them the struggle of finding out for themselves.

Don't even get me started on being the first sibling to have to navigate applying to colleges.

I really could have used you then. I'm convinced there is nothing more difficult than trying to fill out a FAFSA or Common Application with absolutely no guidance or experience. Is my application essay long enough? Should I apply for early or regular admission? What if I don't get accepted anywhere? As selfish as it sounds, I would have given my other foot not to have to find these things out for myself.

I'd trade a lifetime worth of shotgun privileges to have you in my life to help me figure this stuff out.

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