I am a liberal, Jewish, pro-choice Democrat. I find Sarah Palin to be scarily conservative, excessively religious and alarmingly ignorant. I would never vote for any ticket she was on. I do, however, absolutely respect one thing about her: her decision not to abort her son with Down Syndrome, as 80% of parents do.
I never had to make that decision. But I do have a son with autism, and – like many parents of children with disabilities – have a big problem with the assumption that children who are less intelligent are somehow less human or deserving of life than “normal” kids. And more and more people with Down Syndrome are challenging those long-held beliefs all the time, by greatly exceeding society’s expectations of what a “retarded” individual should be capable of achieving.
Take Zach Wincent, for example. This 19-year-old from Illinois hasn’t let Down Syndrome keep him from racking up an impressive list of accomplishments, including being elected prom king, taking classes through the special needs program at Elgin Community College, coaching ice hockey, and working at Target.
Maybe, for some parents, working at Target isn’t a high enough aspiration. I used to be one of those parents – before I had kids, I would imagine my future offspring and think, I don’t care if they’re cute, I just want them to be smart. But I’ve come to understand that even if my four typical kids go on to Ivy League educations and six-figure jobs, it’s unlikely they’ll make any greater contribution to society than their autistic brother, who’s already inspired the college student who worked with him to go to graduate school and pursue research in autism. Maybe she will be the PhD who discovers the cure.
Now, my one great hope for all five of my kids is that they’ll be happy. Zach Wincent seems really happy. And would anyone really suggest that his happy life is not just as valuable and important and inspiring as anyone else’s?
Wincent Family Photo
Can a Mom be ‘Too Dumb’ to Parent?
Too Dumb to Parent: Part 2