In the Western world having a baby born with Down syndrome can be a distressing and confusing time in your life. If your baby is born with severe physical challenges it can be frightening and overwhelming. However, even though a parent may experience all of these emotions and many more, there is at least the realization that help is readily available to make the journey of life with their new child an experience based on love and acceptance. Our society provides medical care and guidance by trained and dedicated professionals. There is also reassuring support offered by groups of people who are going through the same situations. After a period of adjustment the parents realize the inherent beauty and dignity of the life they have created, they accept the fact that the child is a part of them and they soon embrace their loved one with all their being as part of their family.  

There is an emotional and intellectual transition that must be made when you find out the child you had hoped and prayed would be “normal” is actually a child that the world insists on labeling as “different”. Although this period of time can be filled with disappointment and frustration, it is an adjustment you do not have to make alone. Certainly here in the Western world our full acceptance of those with special needs is far from perfect, and at times our lack of sensitivity can be absolutely infuriating, but there has been significant progress made on this front, and we now have a heightened awareness of the absolute right of these individuals to live full and productive lives within our communities instead of being cast out and hidden away.  

But as difficult as it can be for a child who is physically or mentally challenged in the most affluent nations in the world, it is far worse for a baby and their family when this event takes place in extreme poverty. Nonexistent prenatal care along with poor nutrition is a recipe for heartbreak. Factor in the lack of medical attention during delivery and you have all the ingredients necessary to have a child born with a wide variety of physical and intellectual challenges. However, surviving the pregnancy and the delivery is just the beginning of the difficulties that will be faced by this infant as it grows up in a world that cannot consistently offer healthy food, clean water and medical care. Without these basic requirements necessary to promote good health it is highly unlikely that these children will receive the types of special educational opportunities or medical interventions such as surgeries or ongoing physical treatments that will enable them to increase their intellectual capabilities or aid them in developing their motor skills.  

Unfortunately, our society loves to make judgments. We particularly enjoy critiquing people on their appearance, their perceived intelligence and their economic status. When you meet someone who is good-looking, who is articulate and who is well dressed you immediately form an opinion about them. Most will view them in a positive light based on their physical features, their educational background – which is apparent when they express themselves – and the financial success they obviously enjoy that allows them to dress impeccably. On the other hand, when we meet someone whose physical appearance does not conform to the artificial “ideals of perfection” whose speech is not eloquent and who is dressed in a way that makes it clear that they are not financially without concern we immediately judge them in a harsher way. We feel a combination of superiority, disdain and smugness as we look down on someone who is obviously not in our league…but it is all an illusion that exists only in our minds.  

You and whoever you look down on are the same. There is no difference. We are all equal human beings – nothing more or less. Whether you live in comfort or in poverty, with a finely tuned physique or with a body twisted by brain damage, whether you are a gifted speaker or someone who has a vocal impairment and struggles to be understood – it does not matter. None of these factors make you any more or less important than anyone else. We are one humanity. Being physically or mentally challenged plays no part in your worth as a human being any more than your race, gender or economic class does. Everyone must be accepted as a full member in the human family no matter how we have labeled them for our own selfish convenience.  

……And how we love to label people! We insist on it. We do it incessantly without conscious thought. However, WE become indignant at being labeled ourselves because we know that there is so much more to us than some unflattering description that society slaps on us. If you are economically deprived that is but one aspect of your life. It is a situation that you deal with on a day-to-day basis, but it is not your total being. If you have special needs it is exactly the same. It is a situation you deal with but it is not who you are. When we attempt to confine another human being by stereotyping or by jumping to conclusions we are limiting them without any proof whatever to the validity of our label. To be physically or intellectually challenged has nothing to do with the love and joy you bring to the world.  

The struggle to survive day after day in extreme poverty is brutal. When physical or mental challenges are added into the mix the difficulties multiply exponentially. To have a child born with Down syndrome in New York City or London can be a very different experience than having that child in Kenya or in Pakistan. The social networks are not the same. The educational opportunities are not equal. The acceptance by society of those with special challenges can vary greatly. But in the most important ways the experience of parents who have a baby with special needs is identical no matter what their economic circumstances may be. In every case that child needs to be accepted for who they are. They must be treasured as a miracle of life. They must be protected and nurtured to the best of their parent’s ability. They must have the opportunity to be full equal members of the human race…But most importantly of all they need to be loved.   



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