Kristi, Wil’s paraprofessional, sent me this photo of Wil cooking at school with his Connect mentor, Victoria. It was Cinco de Mayo and they were making tacos. Kristi told me he ended up eating 3!
It’s awe-striking to me, still, even though Wil is a teenager, how powerful the simplest joys with him are. I mean, they were making tacos on Cinco de Mayo. How simple is that? But look at their faces. I think of the support he is encompassed with. Simple never is with Wil.
When Wil was born, I knew so little about Down syndrome. I didn’t know how powerful the simplest actions could be.
Though there was a high learning curve in early therapies and doctor’s appointments with Wil, my deepest learning came from knowing him. Knowing Wil’s smile. Knowing Wil’s hugs. Knowing Wil’s first words. Knowing a community that embraced him.
When I reached out to Victoria, she shared, “it’s kids like him who have really made me want to go into the profession. He is so caring.”
Victoria is way ahead of where I was. Her knowing will change lives. Not only for her chosen profession in the future, but also right now. The way she interacts with Wil, simply by being who she is, sets an example that shatters stereotypes and alleviates fears. It is not scary to know Wil. It is not hard to know Wil. In fact, it’s really darn cool to know Wil.
Whenever I hear words like Victoria’s, I’m always drawn to thoughts of my mom’s close friend, Martha. Martha has three sons. Her oldest, Paul, is my age and has Down syndrome. Paul did not have friends like Victoria. In fact, for Paul, general classroom opportunities were scarce to non-existent. Early therapy was not available or encouraged. And a Connect mentor program would have been a far off dream. Martha navigated this life with a tiny fraction of the awareness and advocacy Wil is surrounded with.
Wil and Victoria’s experiences are not just for Wil and Victoria. They are for the families who navigated this life before us, and for the families Wil and Victoria will open doors for. The power of advocacy is not always found in picket lines. Advocacy is also spread by our daily actions in simple, yet powerful, ways. Simple never is with Wil.