My daughter is 12 years old. She is full of sass and is the second most stubborn person I’ve ever known. (My abuelo takes the lead when it comes to being stubborn).
She would like to have her own YouTube channel. She isn’t sure what the channel would be about, but she has several possibilities: makeup tutorials, a “reality show” about her life, Barbies, or “challenges and games.”
She is in middle school, and for the first time ever she loves school. She can navigate the building independently, has peers who have taken the time to get to know her, and has great friends in her special education classroom.
She takes ballet and swimming lessons. Her two favorite activities.
At home, she is the one who gathers the family to play games. She is the one person willing to have dance parties with me. And when we go to a movie theater — to the embarrassment of her sisters — the to of us make it to the front of the auditorium and dance while the credits roll out.
I love this life we have, yet I worry about her future.
Yes, the future is unknown for all three of my children, as much as my future was unknown when I was in sixth grade. But when your child has an intellectual disability, it is not the same. She is only in sixth grade but already during IEP meetings we are discussing life skills, work skills, and the transition program taking place after she graduates from high school.
My daughter has gifts, talents, and strengths, but she still has an intellectual disability and her speech is hard to understand — which often results in people dismissing her, ignoring her, or treating her condescendingly.
If I look at things realistically, there aren’t many job options for individuals like my daughter. Unless things dramatically change in the next 10 years or so, finding employment for her may be a challenge. It is not only that there aren’t jobs built for individuals with intellectual disabilities to succeed, it’s also that there aren’t many employers willing to give individuals with intellectual disabilities a chance and figure out how to include our loved ones in the workforce.
I understand this is a result of a world that sees individuals with disabilities as “less” — people who “take” form society, as if they didn’t have anything to give. Those of us who have loved ones with disabilities know better, and we are trying so hard to do what we can to change this world for them. But this is not a society that values disabled individuals, and even though I am confident change will come, change takes time.
However, I am encouraged because individuals with Down syndrome are being recognized more and more as part of our society. Recently, Zack Gottsagen made history as the first person with Down syndrome to present an Oscar. “Born This Way” was a revolutionary show following the lives of seven young people with Down syndrome. Madeline Stuart is a recognized name in the modeling world. We see more individuals with Down syndrome in the media than we ever did before.
Change is coming.
I don’t know what the future holds, but this is what I know for a fact about her future:
I will stand by my daughter and I will be a pillar for her. I will challenge a world that tries to limit her and push her to the side. I will speak up and make noise when necessary. I will do whatever I can to lift her voice so the world will listen to her.
I will be unshakable in my commitment to her.
And I will figure out what supports she needs to make her best life a reality, whatever that means for her.
Maybe she will have a youTube channel. Maybe she will work at a hair salon. Maybe she will own her own business. Maybe she will work at Culver’s. Maybe she will be an author. Maybe she will be a fashionista. Maybe she will be a volunteer at her
The possibilities are wide and bright. We will just work hard to make those happen.
I want her to do what makes her happy.
I want her always to feel valued, cherished, and loved.
I envision her future to be bright and full of possibilities, pursuing passions, and perhaps sometimes having to let go of dreams.
I believe my daughter’s future will be whatever she wants it to be.
And although she is only 12 years old, I will continue to do what I have been doing till now: I will believe in her and follow her lead.
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