Hugo knows words matter

A Saskatoon mom, Kath Stevenson, wrote this brilliant piece lately and it’s worth spreading to all who teach, mentor, model, live, work and play with people who have disabilities. It would be absurd for a teacher to say “I have 35 students and one Downs in my class…” yet we’ve heard it. It would be just as dehumanizing for a doctor to say, “The patient is kidney” or “he’s dementia” as it is for her to say, “The patient is Downs.”But we’ve heard that, too. When taking a friend back to a group home after a visit, wouldn’t it be demeaning for a staff to say, “Doesn’t matter, park him anywhere. He’s Downs…” Yep, that one, too. Even our son Jim, at 42, gets called Jimmy and we’ve been told he’s “a nice boy, but they’re all so happy, aren’t they?” But then along comes a bright and shining parent like Kath who lays it out like this:

“To all who teach, mentor, or role model health professional students, please take note: Hugo is not Down syndrome or Down’s, i.e. “Since he’s Down’s….”, he certainly has DS, but it is not who he is. Similarly, Hugo is not a ‘Down’s baby’ or a ‘Down syndrome kid.’ When health professionals talk this way, my spidey senses tingle and I no longer trust that you see my whole child. Also, while I appreciate Hugo is damn cute, it isn’t Down syndrome that makes him so, as today’s nurse implied when informing me that they “had so many Down’s kids today” and that makes her happy since “Down’s babies and kids are always so cute, no matter how old.”  Just no. Positive stereotypes are still stereotypes and they hold people back. I want you – I need you – to see my whole son and not a diagnosis and if health professionals can’t rise to the occasion, I’m not sure who can.”

You go, Hugo’s mom. With parents like Kath Stevenson and Ray Romanski, Hugo won’t ever be one of the dismissed ‘others.’ Just like Kath says, our son Jim has Down syndrome, it’s not who or what he is. And don’t call him cute; at 42, the adjective is handsome. We agree, Hugo is cute! And he rocks a rad haircut. But, everybody pay attention: as he becomes a man, don’t forget to treat him like one.

photo credit: Wendy Bickis Photography

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