suffer (verb – used with object): to undergo, be subjected to, or endure (pain, distress, injury, loss, or anything unpleasant)Dictionary.com
This afternoon I was somewhat paying attention to the Philadelphia Eagles v Green Bay Packers game that was playing on the TV while I was in the kitchen. When the sportscasters began talking about the different cleats players were wearing to raise money and awareness for different causes, I paid a little closer attention. When the reporter for the game focused on the cleats worn by Alex Singleton of the Eagles, I thought it was pretty cool that they were for the Special Olympics. The reporter went on to explain why he chose to support that organization:
Because his older sister “suffers from Down syndrome.”
The advocate alarms instantly went off in my brain.
I immediately went to work looking up who was announcing that game, and I learned the reporter’s name.
Next, I Googled the reporter’s name and found the links for her social media accounts.
I’ll be honest in that as I was doing my research, my first impulse was to blast her on her social media accounts and mine. I was even going to sign up on Twitter for the occasion.
However, by the time Google had given me the information I was looking for, I had calmed down (a little) and had decided that I wouldn’t blast her on her social media accounts. Instead, I would just send her a message on Facebook and hope that she saw it and took it to heart.
Hi Ms. Wolfson,
I was watching the Green Bay v Philadelphia game, and I heard you commenting on Alex Singleton wearing Special Olympic cleats today in honor of his sister, Ashley. You said that she “suffers from Down syndrome”. As a parent of a child with Down syndrome, I am going to encourage you to refrain from using that phrase ever again. My guess is that Ashley, like my son Moses, does not suffer at all from having an extra chromosome. She is a person with Down syndrome, living with Down syndrome, and from the sounds of it, thriving with Down syndrome. There is no suffering about it. My guess is that you meant no harm or offense by your choice of words, but please take into consideration that your choice of words impacts how others may view Down syndrome. Seeing as how 67% of parents choose to abort a baby upon learning it has Down syndrome, we have to work intentionally to highlight the beauty and value people with Down syndrome bring to our society.
I also sent her a picture of Moses and me from a recent trip to the zoo in which we were both smiling and clearly not suffering.
There is no pain, distress, injury, loss, or anything unpleasant being endured here simply because Moses has an extra chromosome.
The only time I would say any of us have come close to suffering as a result of Moses having Down syndrome was when we feared we were going to lose him as a baby to RSV.
I don’t expect to get a reply from Ms. Wolfson. I don’t expect her to publicly acknowledge her error in speaking about a person with Down syndrome.
What I do hope is that she never says it again.
I hope she understands how much words matter.
In some cases, they can literally mean the difference between life and death.
3 thoughts on “Words Matter”
My sister doesn’t suffer from Down syndrome either. She calls it a gift. I’m so happy that she loves herself as she is.
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I love that! It really is such a gift. I hope that my son always embraces himself as he is.
My sister, Katie, is surrounded by people who support her. This taught her to see herself positively, and thus by extension, she sees Down syndrome positively. You can’t control everything, but a loving environment can really help.
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