This past Tuesday, I went to Nic's 7th grade class to speak about Down syndrome. The purpose for my visit, was to prepare those 7th graders who are participating on John Michael's team in the Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk coming up on October 25th.
It was an easy audience to do my inaugural talk on Ds. They all love John Michael, who was in the classroom with us, but none have ever asked anything about him or Down syndrome.
I only had about 25 minutes to speak before the end of the school day, so I opened up by talking a little about what Down syndrome was and how the extra chromosome affects John Michael physicially as well as his ability to learn, that it's not a disease that you can catch and it can't be cured. I showed them a quick PowerPoint slide show that I made up with some Ds facts and photos of John Michael.
Once I had them hooked into the topic, I spoke about the R word. I acknowledged that everyone in the room, at one time in their lives, has probably said the R word to mean something was stupid or dumb. I told them that the R word is like hate speech to people with intellectual disabilities and that we need to replace the R word with the word Respect. When you use the R word around people with intellectual disabilities, it is a cowardly act, because their feelings will be very hurt, but they probably won't fight back. I don't know if they ever thought about the R word and John Michael at the same time, but I asked them to think about him if they were ever tempted to say the word. I then showed them 2 short PSAs about the R word. They really liked that.
The Arc "Respect" PSA http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gM96e0yWjhI&feature=related
Finally, I wanted to talk to them about the many different faces they'll see at the Walk. I told them that it's OK if seeing older children and adults with Ds makes them uncomfortable. Acknowledge and accept the fact that you're uncomfortable, but resist the urge to make fun of people just because they look or act differently than you. If someone with Ds approaches them at the Walk, I suggested the best thing to do is smile and say 'hi' and realize that they are more like you than different.
At the end, I showed a 4 1/2 minute video essay called "Difference is an Artist's Game" presented by an 8th grade girl who has a younger brother with Down syndrome. This is a very powerful video and she asks some very deep, pointed questions of the young audience. She relates her brother to a Picasso painting. It's very beautiful and moving.
Difference is an Artist’s Game. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MO911lWVGpQ Must see!
We didn't have time for questions and answers as this brought us up to the very last minute. I even had 2 more PSAs to show and couldn't get to them. I could have easily spoken and shared with them another 10 to 15 minutes if we'd had the time. The room was silent throughout the talk. Afterwards, several came up to me thanking me and some told me they really wanted to do the Walk. So far, we have 8 families registered from Nic's class, bringing our team total to over 25.
The links below are also excellent and I didn't get to show them. That evening, the 3rd grade teacher whose classroom we had used for the Smart Board, asked if I could come talk to her class, too. She was very moved by the talk. Yes! I would love to!
More Alike Than Different http://www.ndsccenter.org/
BE A FAN – “R” WORD CAMPAIGN http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRUOL5Rm2XY&feature=related