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'He doesn't understand why people stare.' How you react when you see my son with Down Syndrome.

Inclusion is many things – and for me, one of the biggest, is to be comfortable wherever you go and not feel as though you shouldn’t be somewhere.

Simple things like going shopping, catching a bus, going for a walk, going to the park and many other day-to-day things that we should all enjoy are quickly ruined when inclusion is not there.

When people stare and point at my son, my protection levels soar, and I immediately think they are looking or pointing in a negative way.

Watch this clip on interacting with people who have a disability. Post continues after video. 


Video via Supplied.

Most of the time, this is not the case, which is why I encourage people just to give a smile to make that negative feeling turn into a positive one for everyone. People may not realise that the stare or look they are giving is making us feel uncomfortable and as if though we shouldn’t be there.

My son is 16 and I’ve worked very hard with him in the community, so we can all have a pleasant experience. He is a very friendly young man and often will say hello to people and it’s devastating when people look at him like he is strange for doing this.

He doesn’t like this feeling either and doesn’t understand why people do this. So please, just give a small smile. You don’t have to do anything else. You don’t have to become friends with everyone to be inclusive and make people feel included. Just being kind is really all it takes.

If you do want to come up and say hello, that would be awesome, and if you have any questions, please ask them. I’d much rather people ask questions about my son’s disability than to assume, or even worse, shun him.

Another thing that people tend to do when we are out in the community is excuse certain behaviours, because they can see he has a disability. He understands right from wrong perfectly well, and just because he has a disability doesn’t mean he can behave badly or inappropriately.

Again, I have worked hard to teach him about appropriate behaviour, and when people say, 'Oh he’s alright' it undoes everything I’ve worked hard on.

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My son has sensory likes, and one of them is soft material. He used to reach out and touch people’s clothing when we were out and about because he liked the feel of the material.

I would tell him to please stop and that we don’t touch strangers. He would listen and remove his hand and thankfully now, the only people he does this to are me and his carer. People he knows.

He doesn’t touch strangers when we are out and I’m so pleased that I have been able to teach him this. Imagine if I touched someone’s dress because the material felt nice. Imagine the response I would get from them.

With my son, quite often people would turn around when he was doing this and when they looked at him and saw he had Down Syndrome, they would tell me it’s okay. 

At first, I never used to say anything, but as he grew, it actually irritated me that they thought it was okay just because of his disability.

To me, it made me feel as though they thought he didn’t understand. That he didn’t know how to learn right from wrong. He has a disability, yes, but this doesn’t mean he can’t learn and doesn’t understand. 

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Everyone I know that lives with a disability understands everything that is going on. They understand instructions; they understand rules, and they understand right from wrong. Even when someone cannot verbalise, don’t let that fool you. They do understand everything.

After a while, I started saying, 'It’s not okay. He may be cute now, but when he’s 18 and touching you, I don’t think you will say it’s okay, so please let me teach him what is right and wrong.'

Most people were surprised at first, but when they thought about what I had just said, they agreed. It made sense. One lady apologised and said, 'If it was my son, I would be the same.'

I really appreciated that. She didn’t need to apologise, just understand where I was coming from. I don’t want my son to be looked at strangely because people have allowed him to do something in public as a child that is definitely not acceptable, especially when he grows into an adult.

I want people to understand that as a parent of a child with special needs, I still want to teach him to be safe in the community and be respectful of others. My friends with children with special needs are the same. We all have long-term goals with our kids for them to be able to function as well as possible in the community as they grow.

It’s the same as when you see a mum with her child, who may be having a meltdown while they are out. Instead of making them feel even more uncomfortable, be kind. You don’t know what is going on with them right now. 

Listen to this episode of No Filter, hosted by Mia Freedman. Post continues after audio.


Lend a hand and ask if there’s anything you can do. Most of the time, people will say 'no thank you' but it’s much better to show some care than to judge them and make them feel even more uncomfortable. They will definitely appreciate the gesture.

Small gestures of care and kindness go a long way. Imagine how it would feel to not be included, or to be judged on face value. We all want to go out and do daily tasks and enjoy the things we love. It’s very simple to accept others and to be kind. 

It matters, and it feels good – for everyone. 

You can find more from Julie, including her book The Magic of Inclusion, on her website.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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