Will Your Child With Down Syndrome Be a Burden on Your Other Children?
One of the concerns that new parents face when they receive a prenatal diagnosis that says that their child has Down syndrome is that the child with Down syndrome will become a burden to the parents’ other children. This reason is sometimes used as a justification to abort the child, thus eliminating one child “for the sake of” the others.
There is a war going on against children with Down syndrome, and a lot of parents and families are now stepping up, hoping to turn that tide. Truth is, I hope to be a tide turner myself. As I am sitting here on the edge of the bed and writing this morning, I’m looking across at my sweet son who is sprawled across the bed in his little gray and yellow striped sleeper. Every now and then, he smiles and waves at some dreamland friend. Even in his sleep, he charms us all.
In a few moments, his brothers and sisters will be in here, hovering over him, coaxing him awake even as I protest that they should let him sleep a little longer. If Dominic produces any squabbles amongst the kids, it is over who “gets” to spend time with him, never over who “has” to spend time with him.
Now, it is true that my son is still small, and his siblings are here, under my care. They aren’t juggling careers and families and all the ups and downs of life while looking after a little brother who may need some level of assistance in life. Fair enough, but I don’t think a child with Down syndrome will be a burden on any family who sets out to regard that child as a blessing from the beginning.
I am joined in that view by a multitude of families who have been blessed to have amongst their ranks a child with Down syndrome. George Will writes about his brother Jon from time to time, and it is apparent that Jon brings something to the family dynamic that no other child could have contributed.
But whether or not a person believes that a child will enrich a family’s experience, there still persists in some parts of society the expectation that a person who may encounter health or developmental delays along the way will be a burden. They fear that the finances, the time, the opportunities for social advancement will be negatively affected by this child. This belief is based on fear of the unknown.
Please don’t be afraid.
Prenatal testing for Down syndrome provides some degree of certainty of a specific diagnosis. Beyond that, it tells very little. It doesn’t predict if your child will be pretty or popular, will be class president or go to the prom. There is no guarantee, no test at all, that can predict which children will remain healthy and which will encounter life-changing circumstances. For that matter, there are no tests for adults either.
I am, by training, a speech pathologist. In my career and just in life in general, I’ve met countless people who have come up against uncertainties and difficulties they never dreamed of. Can you predict when a drunk driver will cross your path? Is there a test for that? Is there any way to know if a person will get cancer or become a drug addict or end up the victim of senseless violence? What if your kid turns into that one obnoxious jerk that nobody likes? There’s no prenatal test for that, let me tell you.
The fact is, there is no way at all to determine what life circumstances any of us faces. You will find joy in unexpected places, and pain in places you never could have predicted. Having a child with Down syndrome–just like having any child–will bring a full range of emotions and life experiences. Life is a tapestry and all the events of our lives are woven together intricately to make a beautiful design. Down syndrome is simply one thread in the tapestry of your child’s life.