I just happened to be at the hospital yesterday when one of my clients, who has Down Syndrome, was there as well.  As I was in the hall at one point, two paramedics with another patient passed me and I heard one say “[her name] is still here, we brought her yesterday” and the other said “who?” and he said “platypus” and they laughed.  It was only a fleeting moment but it hurt me so much for her sake.  No one else heard, and they had no chance of knowing I would pick up on what they said, but I still felt like, no way, not ever, should you call my dear friend and client that name.  It was clear from their laughter that it was meant in a derogatory way and not an endearing way.

I wish I had turned around and said “I know who you are talking about, I care about her very much, please don’t use hurtful nicknames for individuals with Down Syndrome, or really anyone, even when you think no one is listening.”

And if I could have I would have said “you can refer to her as the woman with Down Syndrome, or by a physical description that is not demeaning, or even better her name.”

Sometimes we say these hurtful things because we don’t know how to talk about, or connect to, someone else’s difference.  For the record, it is okay to say “the person with Down Syndrome” it is not okay to say “the down syndrome” or any other version that belittles her exist as a HUMAN to a DIAGNOSIS. Down Syndrome is an accurate feature of her identity, it’s not an insult, but it’s also not her whole identity. Recognize this.

But I didn’t say any of this. I felt shocked and sad and kept walking and then the moment was passed, but the feeling has lingered.

I’m sure we all have moments like this. The world doesn’t always understand how to treat people who are different and “don’t fit” or why we love them the way we do (and sometimes even we forget and need a helpful reminder).  We may not relate and we may not understand, but that is not an excuse to be cruel.

So this is a reminder: please let’s try to speak up when you witness someone being hurtful about another person (even if that person is not present) and for **** sake, don’t be the one to mock or hurt someone for their difference, whatever it is, even if you think no one can hear you.

All of this made me think of a seventeen year old girl I met in the spring, named Renate Gritter, who shared this incredibly powerful spoken word poem about having Asperger’s Syndrome, and the way the world has treated her.  I realize it’s not the same as what happened with my friend and client but it is related, so please watch this and feel the same joy and fierce allyship I felt when I first heard it! (and forgive that it is sideways).