Everyone Has A Voice
I was recently contact by a woman named Mallory Blackwell who had a story to tell. She became quick friends with a gentleman named Josue who happened to be quiet, misunderstood, and cast out by other classmates. Mallory and Josue quickly became friends, even attending prom together. Josue also happens to have Down syndrome.
This story is one that I would enjoy reading over and over again for multiple reasons. It shows how just accepting others, even those who are differently-abled, can change your life for the better. It teaches us that everyone deserves to be listened to and given a chance. And if you’re really lucky, you might just make a lifetime friend. - Lindsay Robertson
“Hi! My name is Mallory and I am 18 years old. I have a rare illness called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, and I am starting college in the fall to my masters in special education teaching. While I do love raising awareness for my illnesses, this story is not about me.
This past year, I met the most creative, intelligent, funny, sassy, and remarkably unique teenagers I’ve ever encountered in the Functional Living Skills class at my school. These teenagers might learn differently or not behave as society deems “typical,” but they are just like every other teenager. They want to go to school dances and sneak coffee into their classroom, they crave independence and just want to have friends to laugh with.
While this was immediately apparent to me, I quickly realized that my viewpoint was not shared with the rest of my school. I saw so many encounters I was simply shocked by! From people leaving the lunchroom when the class came in to people telling me that the kids in that class didn’t have a voice and didn’t need to be listened to. While I did feel that initial rush of anger, it quickly changed to an overwhelming realization that I felt sorry for them [the classmates making those judgments].
They decided with one glance to count out their classmates who could teach them more in 5 minutes about joy, determination, resilience, positive attitudes, and overwhelming intelligence than they could possibly learn anywhere else. And I am not okay with that. So I sat in that class, and listened. And one person in that class forever changed my life and is the reason I’m writing this.
His name is Josue. Instantly we formed an unbreakable bond. He asked me to prom with a sign he wrote himself, and he bought me a corsage with pink and white flowers because he knew they were my favorite. Josue proudly told everyone that I’m his girlfriend and didn’t care about my crutches or medical devices. This boy holds my entire heart, and yet the only thing people see is that Josue has Down syndrome. For the first 16 years of his life, he was completely underestimated. His teachers saw a boy who didn’t speak and didn’t participate, and gave up instantly.
This is a common misconception about all kids with disabilities, that they can’t or won’t learn, especially if they are non-verbal. When the most amazing teacher came in to the FLS class last year, she saw these kids as who they really were, and within one year of this new teacher, every single kid in the class grew leaps and bounds. Julia, who also has Down syndrome and had never been able to communicate now was pointing to “yes” and “no” cards, and making decisions for herself. That gave her so much confidence that she soon became the sassiest teenager I’ve ever met, sneaking out of the room when no one was looking and licking folders when she didn’t want to do her class job. But the biggest change was in Josue.
Two years ago, he sat in a chair all day, watching YouTube. Now, he has learned to count up to 10, can write his alphabet, read my name for the first time yesterday, grew out of using an iPad to communicate and now is talking all the time, can identify over 100 sight words, match colors, shapes, and animals, can type his name, tie his shoes, and is even learning to read. He helps cook and clean with his class, and is the brightest kid I have ever met in my life. Yet still, people only see Down syndrome. They decide he isn’t smart because he isn’t learning what “normal” teenagers learn, and that his voice doesn’t matter, just because you have to listen a little harder to hear his funny, smart, and ALWAYS important opinions, thoughts, and ideas.
I wrote all of this to explain one overarching theme that I think everyone needs to read: Everyone has a voice that deserves to be heard. Everyone has opinions, thoughts, and a personality that is unique to them, and that will change your life if you just take a minute to look past appearances and see the people underneath. If you listen, really listen, and follow their lead in how they communicate best, you’ll learn that anything is possible if someone believes in you.