October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, so I’m posting this excerpt from a newspaper article I wrote 40 years ago. I still remember Dawn’s words. She went to high school in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where she was a member of the school’s Explorer Post 1841, made up of the school’s special education class.
The students were planning a trip that would include a four‑day cruise on a tall‑masted sailing ship and a day at Disneyworld. They were involved in the decision‑making from start to finish. They had raised their own money and arranged to bring a small sailboat into the high school’s pool to practice swimming and sailing techniques. They had studied ways to handle long days cooped up on a bus. Their teacher knew they would learn important life skills.
The trip was a success, by the way.
I interviewed the class before it left, and this is part of my report. While some of the language has changed over the years, the lesson the students taught me is still fresh.
(A thoughtful and generous response to the same issue was expressed by Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens in this letter.)
That’s what it’s like to be called retarded, according to Karen Gass. “I’m just a slow learner,” she insisted.
But some of her classmates didn’t like being called slow learner, either. Special education students sounded better to them.
Normal was what Dawn Cain wanted to be called.( Collapse )