My Brother Is Not His Disability
Kevin has Down syndrome. But to me and my family hes entirely normal.
By Colgan Leaming, Special to Newsweek, Updated: 6:13 p.m. ET June 1, 2006LINK
June 1, 2006 - Last July, I took a car trip with Kevin, my 15-year-old brother. The music was blasting and the sun was shining through the windows, warming our faces. We were singing loudly to the tune on the radioBruce Springsteen, of course. We cruised down the highway enjoying the summer heat and each others presence. I looked over and couldnt help but feel immensely happy when I saw his face with its beautiful smile that cures all pain and those deep blue eyes that see the world in a perfect light. The song ended, and he hit repeat.
We were going to a summer camp for children and young adults with developmental problems. Kevin has Down syndrome, one of the most common causes of cognitive delays, and he is legally blind. He is also an amazing young man who has many talents to share with the world. Unfortunately, most people miss out on his gifts because they are focused on his disabilities. I wish everyone could see him as I do. He is just Kevin. Simple as that.
A well-meaning friend once told me, Colgan, it must be so hard having a brother who is mentally retarded. I was so taken aback! Perhaps it was my naiveté, but I prefer to believe it is because I have lived with Kevin for 16 years now that I see him as he really is. At that moment, my eyes were opened, and I began to realize that many people in the world share my friends view.
My brother is not his disability. He is a teenager who loves sports and PlayStation, who cares a little bit too much about his hair and is a little bit too confident, who is kind to every person he meets, who makes you laugh so hard your stomach hurts. Hes a boy just like anyone else. Kevin does not have special needs. All he needs is a chance.
Many people believe that my family must experience less of the world because of Kevin. When I think about this, I cant help but laugh. We experience the world just as much as any other family, perhaps more. How, you ask? Its all about expectations. We expect Kevin to do everything the rest of us do. Kevin has hiked the Grand Canyon, played in more basketball games than I can count, seen all that Yellowstone National Park has to offer, played the flute with an Irish band, gone on numerous camping trips with his friends, snorkeled off the coast the Bahamas, skied in Killington, seen Bruce Springsteen in concert, joined his high-school crew team and so much more.
I want to point out that my brother is not an exception; hes a typical child with Down syndrome. The difference is that Kevin is in a community where his peers and teachers know him and treat him as an individual. Not every person with a disability is so lucky.
Having a sibling like Kevin is not a burden. To my 18-year-old brother Joe and me, its normal. At a time when people are often overly critical of others, Kevin reminds us that it is truly what is inside us that counts. Everyone in my family agrees that if we had the power to take away Kevins disability, we wouldnt. Its just not that big of a deal.
So please dont feel sorry for us. Dont feel sorry for my brother, either. There isnt any reason to; he isnt sick. Dont be scared of experiences similar to mine. I can tell you that my life would not be this happy if it werent for Kevin. More important, have an open mind. Next time you meet a person with a disability, remember that he or she has so much to share with you. Take the time to listen.
That day last summer, as Kevin and I drove along singing to the upbeat music, I glanced at him again and was filled with hope for the world. I wished that everyone could experience that most beautiful sunshine. The road ahead of me suddenly seemed so bright.
Leaming is studying special education and English as a second language at Millersville University in Pennsylvania.
© 2006 Newsweek, Inc.
Ed: Colgan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org