When Matt was born the doctor didn't place him in my parents arms right away. He first told them he was a "mongoloid" (an outdated word even at that time and that they should consider putting him in an institution.) My parents promptly claimed him as their own gift from God. The doctors intentions although misguided and really ill informed, were "good". He was trying to spare them an undue pain and misery. I often wonder what that doctor would say to my parents now were he to see Matt and the high value life he is living. Would he be amazed at the lack of "suffering" our family has been through? Would he apologize for rash judgements and misconceptions?
The truth is God knew exactly what he was doing when he gave us Matt. It feels as if he was perfectly designed just for us. His humor, his love, his joy, his ability to forgive, his grace, his hugs and even his love for routine and his OCD. I often wonder how it was that he is ours.
Matt is now a 38 year old man thriving with Down Syndrome. He lives a full and joyful life. It is through him that I have learned to be a better person, teacher, sister and friend. He teaches me to not take myself so seriously and find joy in the little things. He teaches me to see the best in others everyday when often I want to focus on the not so good. It is because of him that I am a teacher and love my students so deeply.
He is a Special Olympic competitor with hundreds of medals he has won since he was 8. It allows him to be the star, the athlete he so longs to be. He is the world's biggest NFL fan and counts down the days until training camp from the moment the superbowl ends. He can tell you the name of every player on every team and knows when one has been traded or has retired. He spends hours a day writing in his books the names of athletes and teams. Although he does not write or read phonetically he can write and read by memorization and has memorized thousands of words that help him navigate the world around him.
Recently Matt has been part of a group working to pass the Travis Alert Law in Washington State. The law would provide training for first responders that would inable them to better assist individuals with disabilities. It would also provide an advance alert in the 9-11 system so that a call coming in from a registered number would trigger alerts specific to the individual with disabilities, critical information that could be life saving for so many. He is living proof, like so many others, that you can't put limits on someone just because of a diagnosis or label.
Most of all Matt is my best friend and through his willingness to allow me to share his story we hope to change the way the world views individuals with Down Syndrome. We hope that someday doctors will be quick to congratulate parents instead of consoling them upon a diagnosis. Things have come a long way and yet there is so far to go. I know without a doubt just how incredibly blessed I have been to be the sister to such an amazing young man. I can't wait to see what is ahead for him.