Creating a Culture of Life that Values Everyone
Shortly after my daughter was born and diagnosed with Down syndrome, I learned something that made me physically ill.Â 80-93% of all children diagnosed prenatally with Downâ€™s are aborted.
The secular world doesnâ€™t find this statistic shocking, and as Iâ€™ve grown accustomed to it, frankly, neither do I. As prolifers, weâ€™d like to blame the â€œculture of death,â€ and that certainly plays a part. But I think thereâ€™s more to it than that.
I was a cradle Catholic, born to prolife work. But knowing abortion is wrong is the simplest part of being prolife. I attended a parochial school that couldnâ€™t handle kids with disabilities. In my first thirteen years I never met a person with a disability, let alone got to know them.
In high school, I discovered I had a Catholic classmate with a physical disability. I should have known him, but I didnâ€™t. And hereâ€™s where it gets uncomfortable. I never could interact with him naturally. IÂ believedÂ that a personâ€™s value is independent of his or her abilities, but because I had been isolated from the disabled population,Â I could not behave accordingly.
To this day I writhe in shame at the ugliness of that statement, but I own it because I suspect Iâ€™m not the only one in this position. Something about disability makes us uncomfortable. Weâ€™re afraid to touch people with disabilities. Afraid to talk to them, lest in our ignorance and discomfort we make them feel bad. It seems easier to pretend they arenâ€™t there, to let our eyes slide past and not engage. We donâ€™t protest when children are segregated behind the special ed wall. It simplifies life, and besides, kidsâ€™ educational needs have to be met, right?
The problem is, we donâ€™t look for other opportunities for our children to interact with their â€œdifferently-abledâ€ peers. As a result, generations of people grow up without any meaningful interaction with people who have disabilities.
So itâ€™s not all that surprising that a diagnosis of Down syndrome, with its laundry list of potential medical and developmental issues, so often leads to abortion. After all, so many people haveÂ notÂ been steeped in the belief that oneâ€™s worth is unconnected to their abilities. If they have no personal experience to offset the â€œscary bad,â€ the inertia must seem irresistible.
So now comes the really hard question:Â what do we do about it?Â Here are a few ideas:
- Get to know kids with special needs in your childrenâ€™s schools. Invite them for birthday parties and play dates. Get to know their parents. Be frank about what you do and donâ€™t know. Ask what accommodations need to be made to allow their child positive interactions with yours â€” and make the accommodations.
- When you see a parent and child at the mall or the playground, interact with them. Occasionally, youâ€™ll be rebuffed, but most parents of kids with special needs are eager to make connections. They know their childrenâ€™s future depends on others â€œgettingâ€ their kids.
- At church, interact with adults in wheelchairs the way you would with anyone else. If speech is slurred or difficult to understand, slow down and take the time to figure it out. Touch them, shake hands, meet their eyes. This is how we treat them with dignity.
- Support inclusion in your kidsâ€™ schools. Not every parent wants it; not every child is best served by it. But a default status in which â€œnormalâ€ kids inhabit one reality and â€œdisabledâ€ kids another breeds isolation and ignorance.
This is hard stuff. I know. Five years ago, every item on this list was way outside my comfort zone. But the way to create a culture that values everyone, regardless of circumstance, is to begin right here, in our own hearts and homes.
KathleenÂ Basi is a stay-at-home mom, freelance writer, flute and voice teacher, liturgical composer, choir director, natural family planning teacher, scrapbooker, sometime-chef and budding disability rights activist. She puts her juggling skills on display atÂ www.kathleenbasi.com.Â