A few weeks ago, a friend introduced me to a man who is fighting the good fight and working hard to shine a positive light on the task of raising a child with Down syndrome. I reserve a great deal of respect for people who are passionate about putting good into the world, so I was more than intrigued by his story.
Admittedly, I don't know a lot about Down syndrome. I've only met a handful of people with DS but never really had an opportunity to get to know any of them. In junior high I remember taking a dance class where we combined with the special education students. At first I was quite nervous, because though I had always been taught to love everyone, I had never directly interacted with anyone who had a disability. I didn't know how to act and I was scared of the unknown.
To a certain degree, we're all afraid of the unknown. This is why I think it's so important that more people take it upon themselves to become familiar with all kinds of people. Lucky for everyone with WiFi, the Internet is an excellent place to start doing just that. Enter Alan Lawrence.
Seventeen months ago, Alan and his wife had a beautiful baby boy, Wil. Shortly after Wil was delivered, the doctor informed Alan and his wife that their boy had Down syndrome. Alan felt like his whole world had come crashing down:
I was upset because I had a preconceived idea of how my life was going to flow into retirement, and it frustrated me that I would not have the life I thought I needed. I was embarrassed and wouldn't share birth photos of Wil with his eyes open because I knew that people would be able to tell he had DS. Selfishly, I worried that Wil would be a huge burden and strain on our family.
Alan's wife, Nikki, did not share the same negative feelings as Alan. She did her best to find joy in this unexpected blessing. Alan remembers being so confused as to how she could be so positive:
I asked her why she was not more upset. She turned to me with a loving gaze, paused and simply told me to get over myself. She had immediately recognized the positive effect Wil was going to have on our family and friends. We talked further about facing trials together as they came and how it would strengthen our family and marriage.
Alan and Nikki's pediatrician introduced them to the mother of an 8-year-old with DS. She shared the joys of raising her child along with information about the many support groups in their area. This helped ease their minds. They then asked her about learning more about DS on the Internet and she warned them about the negative nature of some of the DS content online. For example, A 2007 article in The New York Times brought to light the startling fact that "About 90 percent of pregnant women who are given a Down syndrome diagnosis have chosen to have an abortion." That's an astounding percentage. Alan understands how overwhelming it can feel to learn your child has Down syndrome. However, now that the initial shock is over and Wil is growing up, he can't imagine not having Wil and the joy he brings to their family of seven -- soon to be eight:
I would consider it all a success if my efforts helped even one parent reconsider giving up their child with DS.
After he brought Wil home from the hospital, Alan began searching the Internet to learn more. He found some great blogs and a handful of videos on YouTube, which were helpful, but the majority of his learning came from seeing how Wil touched the lives of their family and friends:
At that point I had the feeling that I needed to be a part of bringing more awareness and support to the world of DS online by sharing glimpses of how my son has become a light and not a burden to our family.
Initially, to share his message of hope, he began blogging about his family's everyday stories. While searching for a more unique way to visually tell his family's journey together with a child with Down syndrome, he began taking photos of his son flying in everyday situations:
The flying is a different way of showing that, just like our other children, Wil can do anything he puts his mind to. He has no limits. He has not become a burden but instead has changed us in ways we didn't know we needed to be changed.
These unique photos are Alan's heartfelt contribution to the world in an effort to draw attention to the reality that raising a child with Down syndrome, though difficult at times, is not a burden but a joy to him and his family.
If you want to see more of Wil, you can follow Alan's Instagram, @thatdadblog, check out #wilcanfly or visit his blog.