A from-the-heart review of ‘Just Like You’
Posted on February 7, 2013
The story below is what I felt compelled to write immediately after watching “Just Like You.” I knew it was different; I knew it didn’t fit with SheKnows content (the site for which I was assigned to write it). But I had to do it because the words were pouring from my heart, and so I submitted it.
My incredibly supportive editors very tactfully pointed out this style doesn’t fit with the style of writing on SheKnows, confirming my instincts and resulting in this article (please read that one, as well, because it gives the context for this story).
Here is The First Version. Because it is my heart on paper. Or screen. You get the idea. I hope you enjoy it…
Imagine, for a moment, that you are parent to a beautiful toddler. He is clever, funny and always grinning and waving at strangers. He deflects tough questions with shy chuckles and deft subject changes.
Right before bedtime, when he watches his favorite television show, The Wiggles, he holds your hand as he sits, slack-jawed and mesmerized by the dancing, colorful characters. His weary body leans against yours, and his tongue rests gently between his teeth.
Now, imagine for a moment that he has Down syndrome, a condition that means he has 47 chromosomes while most people have 46. He has just one tiny little extra chromosome than everyone around him. He isn’t defined by his Down syndrome, but it presents daily challenges he has to work hard to overcome.
As a baby, his challenges are virtually invisible to others. He exhibits some physical traits of individuals with Down syndrome, so sometimes strangers notice and ask.
His eyes are perfectly almond shaped, slanting upward just a bit. He has the cutest, tiny nose and small ears (and the smallest ear canals you’ve ever seen!). When he was a baby, his tongue protruded regularly. As a toddler, his muscles have grown strong enough that his tongue usually protrudes only when he’s concentrating hard or feeling tired.
One day, he goes to school and you realize you may need to educate others on his condition, because people like teachers and other classmates will notice things take him a bit longer. He has to work a bit harder, and he doesn’t always have the attention span to do so. You know that if they just learn about his extra chromosome, they will understand his needs so much better. They will show compassion.
So, you have movie afternoon at school and show Just Like You, a short film produced by the longest list of producers you’ve ever seen because so many people wanted to be part of introducing this tiny extra movie to the world.
Suddenly, the entire class feels empowered by the knowledge they absorbed from this one tiny little video.
They understand Down syndrome so much better than before. They realize your son isn’t lazy or disengaged. They realize he is trying with all his might. They remember that time when he could have used some help, but they were confused and so because no one else said anything, neither did they.
Almost overnight, children start to offer to help him in school. Teachers develop class plans that allow everyone to participate and be included, all learning the same material but in different ways and perhaps at different speeds.
Your son feels like he belongs. His confidence builds. He raises his hand more often. He chatters on about his day throughout dinner, cheerfully and with such a glow, you can’t help but feel as if the pride will shoot out of your ears and knock someone down.
Your son is happy. Life is wonderful.
And then it happens.
One child missed the movie. She was sick that day, and no one made sure she saw the movie once she felt better.
Now, she is sitting next to your son as he works on a math problem – a subject he rather despises anyway, because it feels like it takes him forever to figure things out.
She watches him watch the paper, silently and motionless. She wonders if he’ll ever finish the problem.
A kind boy also notices your son’s frustration and moves his desk closer to your son. He understands math is hard, and he understands your son may need a little extra help. He says, “Would you like some help?”
Your son smiles widely and says, “Yes, please.” He feels better already.
“Why are you helping him cheat?” the girl whispers to the kind boy. She follows all the rules.
“It’s not cheating,” the kind boy replies. “I’m just giving him the help he needs.”
“He’s such a retard,” the girl scoffs.
Your son stares at her, hurt in his eyes and pain in his heart. His eyes brim with tears and confusion. The kind boy slowly turns to the girl and raises his voice from a whisper to a regular talking voice.
“Please don’t use that word around us,” he says. “That word is hurtful, even though I don’t think you mean to hurt us.”
Then, the kind boy puts a hand on your son’s shoulder and says, “She doesn’t understand the real rules. Let’s work through this problem together.”
That night, your son sits quietly at the dinner table. He mutters sullen replies to questions and keeps his gaze steadily downward. He asks to be excused and doesn’t watch The Wiggles before bedtime.
Two days pass before he shares the story. At dinnertime on day two, you tell him that if he won’t share what’s bothering him, you will need to check in with his teacher to make sure everything is all right.
“No, don’t!” He exclaims. “I don’t want extra help. I don’t want people to think I’m cheating.”
Now it’s your turn to be confused.
He opens up. He cries a gut-wrenching cry. He sobs against your shoulder as you rub his back and kiss his gleaming blonde hair.
The next day, you meet with his teacher and ask why the girl might say such a hurtful thing to your son. The teacher insists the girl is kind and good. She wouldn’t mean to hurt your son.
“But surely she saw the movie,” you say incredulously.
Now the teacher understands. She remembers the girl never saw the movie because she was out sick. The girl never learned about Down syndrome. She doesn’t know that your son needs just a little extra help because of a little extra chromosome.
The teacher sends a copy of the movie home with the girl, along with a note asking her parents to watch it with her.
But the damage is done.
Your son’s confidence has waned. He doesn’t want to raise his hand anymore. He doesn’t want anyone to notice him. He is quiet all afternoon at school and doesn’t high-five the kind boy in the hallway.
The next morning, the girl arrives at school holding a small package in her hand. She approaches your son with a sadness that wraps around her, from head to toe.
“I watched the movie,” she says. Your son looks up at her with hope and a shy smile.
“I am very sorry that I used a hurtful word, and I promise I will never use that word again,” she says.
She hands him the package.
When your son struggles to open it, she asks, “Can I help?” Your son just nods. She tears off the wrapping to reveal a calculator. It’s one of those cool, big ones with extra-big numbers.
“I want to help, too,” she whispers. Her heart hurts and her throat feels thick. Her eyes are rimmed with red, like she has really bad allergies.
“Thank you,” your son says. He glides his finger over the extra-big buttons and smiles. He’s always wanted one of these cool calculators. “Will you help me learn how to use this?” he asks.
“Yes,” the girl replies. She moves her desk closer to your son’s.
Eight years later, as you watch your son enter the school’s musty gymnasium wearing a black cap and gown, you notice he is flanked by the kind girl and the kind boy. All three are grinning and waving to everyone.
Life is wonderful.
To order “Just Like You,” please visit https://secure.kcdsg.org/order-just-like-you.php
Want to share “Just Like You” with your child’s class? Here’s an example of another parent’s presentation: http://www.special-and-determined.com/down-syndrome/down-syndrome-awareness-great-presentation-to-kindergartners/#comment-307