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Left Out

An open letter to the parent that thought it was OK to invite the entire class to their child's birthday except for my son... sharing this because I think it's a valuable lesson for all and I'm trying to educate & advocate more.  Hi there, I know we don’t know each other well but my son Sawyer and your child are in the same class. I understand that your child recently delivered birthday invitations to the entire class except to Sawyer, who was not invited. I also understand that this was not an oversight on your part, that it was an intentional decision to not to include my son. I want you to know that we don’t have an expectation of being invited to every birthday party. In fact, when Sawyer celebrated his birthday last year we only invited a few close friends as we wanted to keep it small, since it was over the Christmas break. But in your case, this is not the same reason. In fact, you have invited all 22 other children from the class except for my son. I know it’s not because he’s mean, you couldn’t meet a happier child. I know it’s not because he’s not fun, he has a great sense of humour and an infectious laugh. I know it’s not because your child and him don’t get along, he’s brought up your child’s name on several occasions. The only reason why you decided it was OK to not invite my son to your child’s birthday party is because he has Down Syndrome. I am sorry that you are not informed, maybe scared, or uncertain about what it means to have Down Syndrome. I know if you knew more about Down Syndrome you wouldn’t have made this decision. I am not mad at you. Rather, I think this is an opportunity for you to get to know my son better. You see, having Down Syndrome doesn’t mean that you don’t want to have friends. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have feelings. It doesn’t mean you don’t like to go to birthday parties. People with Down Syndrome want the same things that you and I want. They want to have close relationships, they want to feel love, they want to contribute, they want to have meaningful lives, and they want to go to birthday parties. It may be more difficult at times to understand my child. But the laughter and love that you share doesn’t need interpretation. I want you to know that I was also like you. I was scared, uncertain and misinformed about Down Syndrome before having my son. I was so worried that my other children wouldn’t be able to connect with him in the same way as other siblings do. But I was wrong. In fact, my children are closer than most other siblings are. Having a brother with Down Syndrome has helped shape them into compassionate individuals who know that just because you may be a little different that others, that it’s OK. They are not afraid to help when they see someone struggling. And they are not afraid to approach someone they might not fully understand. In return they have received so much love and joy from having their brother as their best friend. Maybe you are struggling with the words to say to your child because your child did not want my son at their birthday party. Maybe you let your child decide that it was OK to single someone out. I know it can be difficult to teach our children about something we may not understand ourselves. I struggle with this as well. But this is a great opportunity and life lesson to have with your child. They will remember the time that their parent said to them, it’s not OK to leave someone out because of their disability, race, or gender. I know you want the same things for your child that I want for mine. As parents, we want our children to be liked, to have friends, and to not be left behind. And how we do this is by setting examples ourselves and encouraging them to make choices that they might not be old enough to fully comprehend. But they will look back one day with understanding and the knowledge that you have shared with them. I am certain, that with a little encouragement, your child can develop a true friendship with my son that will leave a permanent, positive impression on them for the rest of their life. It’s only until this happened that I realized myself that Sawyer hasn’t been invited to hardly anyone’s birthday party this past year. The kids are getting to that age where they often only invite a few children to their parties and he hasn’t made the cut. Other parents I know that have children with Down Syndrome have often started the school year by educating the class and I haven’t done that. He’s always just been Sawyer to me and I haven’t felt the need to talk about Down Syndrome to his class until this moment. I realize now that I have let him down. I have let a year slip away where I could have done more to educate families. Perhaps then we wouldn’t be in this situation. I realize that it’s my obligation as his parent and advocate to educate people more about what it means to have Down Syndrome and how they are more like you than different. I now know how important it is to talk about it and it’s something I am committed to doing a better job of. Please know that I am here to talk if you would like. I may be a mama bear but I am not a scary person. I recognize that we all make mistakes and at the end of the day, I think we both could have done better. Thank you, Jennifer (Sawyer’s Mom) UPDATED: Thank you everyone for your kind comments and for sharing your own stories. I'm trying to read them all. I want you to know that there is a happy ending to this story. The parent read my letter, spoke to their child about Sawyer, and the child created a special birthday invite for Sawyer. Of course he's been beaming ever since and can't stop talking about it. I'm really proud that my letter has reached so many people because it's not just this birthday party and its not just Sawyer. There are so many kids with special needs (and without of course) that just don't make the cut. I think as parents we all need to do a better job of fostering these relationships, myself included. I hope that parents who read this will help open that dialogue with their own child and perhaps make that one 'extra' invitation.
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Parents set the stage for the healthy development of children with Down syndrome into adults who are able to make positive contributions to their community. By monitoring important health care screening, guiding appropriate behaviour for successful social interactions, incorporating knowledge about communication strengths into everyday routines, and developing skills for self-care and school readiness, we are optimizing the potential for full social inclusion. The Down Syndrome Research Foundation is pleased to present our New Parent Series from September 2016 to June 2017. This series will be offered on Saturday mornings from 10 am to 12 pm for parents of newborns to age five, and provides an opportunity for families to meet other families while learning about Down syndrome from experienced professionals. The sessions will be held at DSRF (1409 Sperling Avenue, Burnaby). Registration is for the entire series (not a drop-in program). Please contact to register by September 7. Please register early if you will be requesting childcare (volunteers will supervise children in a room that is adjacent to the presentation, and children will join families during social time at the end). Sessions: September 17: Susan Fawcett, M.Sc. RSLP Susan has been the head speech therapist at DSRF since 2003 and is currently at UBC doing her PhD in Family-Centred Positive Behavioural Support. Susan will provide an overview of some of the key learning strengths and challenges associated with Down syndrome. October 15: Dr. Elena Lopez, MD, MSc, FRCPC Dr. Lopez is a Clinical Geneticist, Developmental Pediatrician, BCCH. She is Clinical Asst Professor, UBC and Clinical Investigator, CFRI, UBC. Dr. Lopez will discuss important preventative health care screening related to Down syndrome and healthy childhood development. November 19: Adrienne Dall’Antonia, BSc, RD, BBA Adrienne is a registered dietitian at Eating for Energy as well as the mother of Aliya, who has Down syndrome.  Adrienne will initiate a conversation on feeding issues and recommended practices as well as answer questions regarding nutrition and Down syndrome.   December 17: Dr. William Rosebush Dr. Rosebush is a family dentist practicing in Vancouver. Dr. Rosebush will discuss dental issues commonly encountered in people with DS and some strategies for keeping teeth and mouth healthy. January 14: Riley Rosebush, M.Sc. RSLP Riley has been a speech therapist at DSRF since 2012. Riley will talk about the issues that affect feeding, eating safely, and resources that are available locally to support you and your child in feeding. February 18: Hina Mahmood M.Sc. OT and Lillie Ryan M.Sc. OT Hina and Lillie are both occupational therapists at DSRF and will discuss the important early childhood skill of toilet training. March 25: Jillian Baldwin, M.Sc. RSLP Jillian Baldwin has been a speech therapist at DSRF since 2014. Jillian will discuss strategies to optimize communication skills. April 22: Susan Fawcett, M.Sc. RSLP Susan has been the head speech therapist at DSRF since 2003 and is currently at UBC doing her PhD in Family-Centred Positive Behavioural Support and will discuss positive behavioural support. May 27: Eleanor Stewart M.Ed. and Danielle McKinney B.Ed. Eleanor and Danielle are both teachers in the DSRF Early Foundations Reading Program. They will discuss optimizing learning strengths and the ways in which you can start early to build a solid foundation for participation at school.   June 17: Pat Hanbury, BA Psych. Pat is the Director of Programs and Services at DSRF and will discuss navigation of the provincial children’s services system.
Each year, the BC Council for Exceptional Children celebrates the achievements of children and youth with exceptionalities through the BC CEC Yes I Can! Awards program. We're very proud to announce that DSRF student Clara Driedger was chosen as a recipient of the award for academics in reading (grade 5). Way to go, Clara! Clara’s mom attributes her success to the many hours she has spent at DSRF receiving specialized reading instruction. The school does a great job reviewing the practice materials with Clara, so DSRF and Clara’s school are working in partnership. Clara’s mom says “We are grateful for the program and the wonderful teachers at DSRF for encouraging Clara’s love of reading." We are so pleased to be able to help empower Clara to achieve her full potential!
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Down Syndrome Research Foundation
1409 Sperling Avenue, Burnaby
British Columbia, Canada
V5B 4J8

Fax: +1 604 431 9248
Phone: +1 604 444 3773