As Down syndrome awareness month (October) is almost upon us, I thought it might be the right time to write about telling Audrey she has Down’s syndrome (-by the way for anyone who doesn’t know, Down’s and Down syndrome are both acceptable ways of writing her condition, the latter being more common in the US).
I have no great insight or advice for anyone wondering when or how to tell their children, but this is our experience…
The fact is, Ted and I really weren’t sure when to tell her or her brother. I kept thinking “Well here I am hashtagging her, sharing, chatting, raising awareness… but I haven’t really made her “aware” she has Down’s syndrome” and that seemed a bit odd. But also: she is at a mainstream school, with friends who are ‘typical’ children and they are all playing together and accepting of each other, pointing out her difference seemed a bit counter-productive.
Then the summer ended and I realised Rex would be at the same school as his sister, alongside lots of older children who may well know that Audrey has DS and what that means… I felt I wouldn’t want either of them to be completely baffled if someone mentioned it.
As a family, we have briefly alluded to it here and there over the years, kids can be hilariously disinterested when you attempt to get deep or explain complex things to them, so we don’t think anything ever sunk in. Generally these discussions would come to explain why Audrey was older than a certain child, but couldn’t walk like them. Because the ‘difference’ noticed has usually been physical, I’ve relied on ‘low muscle tone’ as an explanation.
Over the years I have seen children her age or older, with that look that says “What is she on about?” when she’s being silly (over excited usually) or doing something they might consider strange, but at the same time kids generally just accept stuff and move on.
Rex of course has always known Audrey as his big sister, with no expectations of what that might mean (should she be cleverer, faster, stronger or bossier than him? Shouldn’t she be out of night time nappies?). I know that in time, it’s likely he will start to feel like the older sibling, he will notice the differences between Audrey and her peers, but currently, it’s not something that needs highlighting. It’s a truly wonderful time for them to be siblings, with no “difference” being highlighted or acknowledged. But, that said, subtle differences are already creeping in. He knows he’s faster at running. He knows he can climb when she can’t. He may have thought it strange he nailed pooing on the toilet before she did. So the time came that we needed to tell them both that Audrey has Down’s syndrome…
We took an opportunity when running was being discussed again and said, “Well, Audrey has something called Down’s syndrome that makes it a bit harder for to run as fast as you, but she’s very flexible and good at yoga because of it”. We repeated this again a couple of days later and got the classic kid response “I know, you already told me”. But shortly after I heard Rex telling Audrey “You have Down’s syndrome Audrey, so you can’t run fast” and then Audrey replying “It means I’m super flexible!”. And that was that.
At present, with Rex just starting reception, it’s a short window whilst she knows more letters and words than he does, that she can read books and write sentences… but I can see it won’t be long until he’s caught up with her. I hope that we can always instil that sense that although Down’s syndrome brings challenges, there are positives to her condition. She wouldn’t be the child she is without it and we wouldn’t want her to be anyone else.