Accepting My Boy: What a Community’s Inclusion of my Son with Special Needs Means for Him and Them

It’s a neighborhood concert night and everything is perfect -- the weather is comfortable and sunny; the music is so awesome; there are familiar faces everywhere from our little Lake Linganore community. Oh, and there is a group of boys playing football in a circle just below our chairs. There’s about eight of them and they’re all relatively the same age, splitting off into teams and tossing the ball back and forth to one another and pitching it into imaginary end zones. They’re all getting equal play time and they seem like they’ve been best friends forever.

But here’s the thing. There’s an extra chromosome in this group. There’s a boy wearing bright yellow shorts who belongs to me and my heart. And this Momma Heart is so happy to see Zachary right in there with the kids.

Wendy Zook Photography, Down Syndrome Awareness, Community Inclusion, Special Needs, Special Needs Parent, DS Advocacy, Down Syndrome Parent

Zachary is different -- but aren’t we all? -- and I have hoped against hope for moments and days like this. The ordinary moments that showcase how kids have the right idea -- they see innocence and belonging and sameness while we adults tend to search right for the differences. These kids saw a boy their age with a willingness to throw a football and for them it was a no-brainer to scoop him up into their game.

But these moments aren’t always guaranteed. There is no promise that this will keep happening in two years or five years. What I do know is that right now and right here, this community has wrapped its arms around my son and given him the ability to just be one of the kids and to fit in just fine.

Wendy Zook Photography, Down Syndrome Awareness, Community Inclusion, Special Needs, Special Needs Parent, DS Advocacy, Down Syndrome Parent

It’s at the neighborhood concerts and while passing time at the bus stop. It’s in the hallways of the school and out at daily recess. The support and inclusion of my son -- at other kids’ birthday parties and playdates and conversations -- this is the happy warmth in my heart that brings me such great joy. It’s why we chose a path of inclusion at school and why we include him as often as possible in all of our normal daily adventures and to-dos.

Wendy Zook Photography, Down Syndrome Awareness, Community Inclusion, Special Needs, Special Needs Parent, DS Advocacy, Down Syndrome Parent

I like to think that I wasn’t the only person who saw this scene at the neighborhood concert -- that kids who were on the fence saw how welcomed Zach was by other kiddos; that some parents felt pride for their children in the football game; that other parents had meaningful conversations with their kids that night or the next day; that parents of younger kids would start a journey of getting them to be the ones that play football on a summer night with a new friend who happens to have an extra chromosome.

I am so grateful for our neighborhood, our school, our community. I’m so grateful for football games and music and joy.