As human beings, we all want the same thing — to feel loved and accepted by the people around us. No matter how we look on the outside or think on the inside, we all at our core long for a sense of inclusion and connection.
Earlier this month, Illinois mother-of-two Kristen Miller Rumphol wrote an open Facebook letter to parents everywhere. The post has struck a deep chord with families, receiving over 12K likes and 15K shares. In the letter, Kristen describes a situation at her local pool that would break any mom’s heart.
“I am a special needs mother, [and] my son Brandon has Down syndrome. I never thought I would be one of those mothers that writes an open letter for all to read, but here I am,” she begins.
While at the pool, 11-year-old Brandon tried time and again to make friends with other kids, but no one would talk to him or even look at him with a smile. Brandon is categorized as non-verbal, but that didn’t stop him from mustering up every ounce of courage to walk over to each boy and girl to say hello.
“Every single time, the kids would either look at him weird and say nothing, or just swim away,” Kristen continues. “Brandon would look back at me with a look of disappointment. Not understanding why the kids were being mean to him.”
She asks parents to teach their children that no matter how a child functions, they all want to be accepted by their peers. And the more moms and dads who open a loving dialogue with their children about those with special needs, Kristen feels the less children will feel isolated like her son did.
“Tell your children that children with special needs want the same thing they do, they want to be accepted. They want to be included and treated just like every other ‘normal’ child. They want friends that won’t judge them and will just accept them as they are,” she writes. “Every person with Down syndrome will learn to do the same thing as everyone else it just takes them longer to get there.”
While Kristen was hoping the post would go viral, she had no idea it would also generate HUNDREDS of playdate offers for her son! The Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association has also organized a special picnic to honor Brandon this Friday. “The outpouring of love is just overwhelming,” Kristen tells Babble.
She also feels incredibly moved by the support from new parents who have children with Down syndrome. These connections have not only helped Kristen feel a deeper sense of community, they have also allowed these moms and dads to feel seen and heard in the process. “I have had a lot of private messages sent to me from mothers with newborn babies that have DS. I have been able to encourage them and give them some resources to help them on their new journey,” she says.
Kristen describes Brandon as an outgoing kid who used to blow kisses to everyone he came across when he was a toddler. “He is compassionate, loving, and kind. He is able to tell if you need a hug and kiss. He will be there, encouraging you in whatever you might be doing,” she tells Babble.
Brandon sounds like one awesome kiddo to me!
Despite her son’s best efforts, Kristen shares how painful it has been to watch him struggle to find connection with others. While she understands that some children can be shy and unwilling to play with a stranger, it was the overall lack of kindness that week that saddened her.
“There were no smiles or saying ‘hi’ before swimming away,” she says. “Brandon wears his diagnosis on his face, so people know he has DS. There were also three adults that ignored him. I just felt that I needed to do something to try to help educate the public.”
As a mom and stepmother, Kristen’s letter resonated deeply with me. I’ve been lucky enough to witness my stepdaughter Bella’s own journey connecting with the special needs children at her school. Not only does she volunteer at a weekly lunch program to connect with these kids, she also makes a point to step out of her daily handball games to play with one of the special needs students she’s connected with at her school. When I ask Bella what she loves about the weekly program, she tells me how good it makes her feel to help the other kids feel special and included.
While Bella lives thousands of miles away from Brandon, I have every ounce of faith the two would hit it off!
Much like with Bella’s school, it is my sincere hope that educational facilities everywhere realize the societal benefit of becoming safe havens for every kind of child out there. While there has been much progress in the realm of teaching inclusiveness in our classrooms, we still have much more progress to come. And as Kristen so passionately points out, how we choose to treat others begins at home.
Thanks to parents like Kristen, children like Brandon will have every chance of finding the friendships and loving relationships they deserve. Because with her letter, Kristen teaches us that every time we encounter a child or adult with special needs, we have a powerful opportunity. We have the opportunity to choose in those moments to connect with someone who deserves our deepest acceptance and generosity.
h/t: Huffington Post