DEAR ABBY: My letter is in response to "Hurt in Pennsylvania," who wanted her daughter judged on her merits rather than on her Down syndrome.
I, too, am a mother of a daughter with Down syndrome, and I felt bad for "Hurt" -- not because her daughter has Down syndrome, but because she failed to recognize those who were obviously attempting to empathize with her, and she is reacting with disdain. I felt bad that your response to her was that her letter "said it very well," because I don't share your view. It is not easy to accept a disability in any child. Down syndrome children ARE similar in many respects; however, that doesn't take away from their individualism. "They" ARE "all so sweet"!
Most people are afraid of the unknown, and when people try to ease someone's pain or "grieving" (as she put it), they shouldn't be alluded to as "insensitive jerks." Our tolerance for others should not be conditional on our own inability to cope. Perhaps it helps others deal with their obvious discomfort to "share their experiences with individuals who have Down syndrome." I, for one, am grateful for all the many people who come forward and offer their love and support since our daughter's birth, even when the attempts are less than perfect.
My daughter is now 19, has graduated from high school and holds a job. There are still difficult things to deal with, but she has affected more people's lives for good than I would have ever dreamed. -- ANNA'S MOM, DIANN STEWART, LAS VEGAS
DEAR DIANN: I'm pleased that your daughter, Anna, has achieved her many successes. However, the message that "Hurt" was trying to deliver is that it's rude to discuss someone's disability during a casual encounter. I printed her letter because I hoped it would cause people to think about how such comments might be received. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: "Hurt in Pennsylvania" should be grateful her daughter wasn't born in the '40s, as was my brother -- who is 52 this year and doing just fine, thank you. She is fortunate she has not had people ostracize her for having a "ruined" child, as my parents did. A "Christian" minister to whom they had gone for counseling actually told them they had given birth to this "Mongoloid" boy because they had sinned! Other mothers wouldn't let their children play with my brother and me for fear they would "catch it."
We were an Air Force family, and in the '50s we were accosted on the street in Wiesbaden, Germany, by a man who told us he didn't want to see this "abomination" on the public streets, and we should immediately have my brother put away! (Well, at least he didn't say "put down"!)
In high school and college, I was told by young men that they would date me, but not to expect anything further (like love and marriage), because they didn't want "retards" for children.
People like me and my family have worked for the last 50 years to educate the public, and if I am approached by well-meaning folks when I'm out with my brother, they are received politely and are liable to get a brief lecture on Down syndrome, along with the fact that, as far as science can tell, it is a tragic genetic accident, and NOT hereditary. -- CHERI THROOP, FORT WORTH, TEXAS
DEAR CHERI: I hope that during the last three decades the public has learned enough about Down syndrome that no other family has to experience the pain that yours (and I am sure many others) did because of ignorance.
For those interested in learning more about Down syndrome, the National Down Syndrome Society Web page is at www.ndss.org.