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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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Bill Der, who is legally blind due to glaucoma, is out to prove that disabilities are no obstacle to doing good, as he prepares to summit Mount Kilimanjaro this fall in support of two local charities. Over the past five years, Bill has climbed the Grouse Grind Trail every weekend. On one such occasion, he came across a fellow Grinder who was carrying a thirty-pound backpack. She was in training to climb seven mountains in Asia, and she suggested that Bill try climbing Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa. The idea stuck. Bill decided to undertake a significant event to mark a change in his life’s direction, as well as pay tribute to his wife of 35 years, Lana, who recently passed away. Bill and his son Spencer, who will serve as Bill’s guide, will be symbolically accompanied on their journey by Lana, as her name will be carved into a special staff that they will carry with them. When they descend from the mountain, they will enter into a different future in which they intend to drive life, as opposed to being driven by life. It is merely the first step in their new mission to spend their energy and resources on helping others to reach their own summit of life, just as others have helped Bill to overcome his own challenges with deteriorating vision. Bill has worked for The Answer Company for more than 15 years, and the company has been tremendously supportive through his battle with glaucoma and the loss of his wife. One of the major charities The Answer Company supports is the Down Syndrome Research Foundation. In gratitude, Bill will be supporting DSRF as he completes his inspiring journey. He will also be simultaneously raising funds for the Alzheimers Society of BC, and has set a goal of raising $15,000 for each charity. Bill and Spencer Der will be blogging their Summit Challenge at Donations can be made to the Down Syndrome Research Foundation at, and to the Alzheimers Society of BC at On Twitter, Bill and Spencer will be using the hashtag #BlindvsKilimanjaro.
The 20th Annual Run Up for Down Syndrome was one for the record books. What may have been the hottest day in Run Up history drew the largest crowd the event has ever welcomed, and obliterated all previous fundraising records. 860 runners and walkers, representing 40 teams, made their away around the campus of Simon Fraser University in support of individuals with Down syndrome. They were assisted in their efforts by an incredible team of over 125 dedicated volunteers who kept everybody encouraged and well-hydrated. The Down Syndrome Research Foundation's goal of making 2016 the first ever $100,000 Run was not only met, but surpassed. Final totals are still being determined, but it appears we will break $110,000 in net funds raised - more than $27,000 above the previous record, set last year. The 20th Anniversary Run Up for Down Syndrome was visually spectacular, with the landscape dominated by a brand new Run Up archway, unveiled for the special occasion. The arch was revealed by DSRF Executive Director Dawn McKenna, Bill Longman (founder of lead sponsor Euro-Rite Cabinets), and former DSRF student Jodi Klukas. Euro-Rite continued their exceptional longstanding support of the event, entering a team of 127 runners, raising over $37,000 and winning the Spirit Award for highest staff participation. Euro-Rite was joined by almost 40 other local businesses in sponsoring the Run (please see the image below for a complete listing, and join us in thanking each and every one of them). Each and every person involved - runners, sponsors, donors, volunteers - has made an incredible difference in the lives of many individuals with Down syndrome. Thank you for celebrating the 20th Anniversary with us, and for investing in the future of DSRF's students and families. Join us again on June 4, 2017 when we kick off the next decade of Run Up for Down Syndrome! Note: The fundraising website will remain open until the end of June, so there is still time to donate!
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Down Syndrome Research Foundation
1409 Sperling Avenue, Burnaby
British Columbia, Canada
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