A waiter defends a boy with Down Syndrome in a restaurant in Houston and the world goes wild!!
I have no wish to, in any way, detract from what Michael Garcia did and I fully acknowledge that I fist pumped the air when I heard the story. We need to have "good news" stories every now and then and this fit the bill. Someone recognised and stood up to prejudice as expressed to a little boy with a disability.
There's always a 'but' isn't there?
In discussing the story, all over the media, people are constantly saying that he stood up for someone who couldn't stand up for himself.
And that's true.
Because the boy was a 5 year old.
Not because ...
I say ... NOT ... because he has Down Syndrome.
However, whenever I hear about the kids vulnerability it is clear that they are talking about his disability not his age. This fervour that the media, and sometimes even families and support people, have for presenting people with intellectual disabilities as being 'unable to speak for themselves,' or 'unable to defend themselves,' or 'unable to fight their own battles,' is harmful. The message to predators and to the public is that people with intellectual disabilities generally and people with Down Syndrome specifically are, voiceless, spineless, vulnerable people forever in need of heroes.
This is not true.
We need to fight this stereotype almost more than any other. It gives the 'go ahead' to bullies and brutes to target those who only need to be alone, only need to be without accompaniment in order to be perfect victims. People with Down Syndrome, and indeed all people with intellectual disabilities, can benefit from abuse prevention training. While it is true that the more significant the disability the more likely the abuse, it is also true that even those with really significant disabilities can learn from an abuse prevention class appropriately targeted. All people with disabilities, even those who don't speak, can find their voice and their power.
If we leave young Milo Castillo, the five year old in the restaurant, in constant need of an 'other' a 'hero,' a 'saviour' then he will always be at the mercy of another person's courage and another person's kindness. And people aren't always courageous enough to be kind.
The Australian publication, Voice, is perfectly named. It ensures that we understand that people with Down Syndrome have their own voices, their own stories and are their own best self advocates. This is not a view that is, yet, universally accepted or understood. It needs to be.
Abuse prevention training.
Bullying strategies and awareness.
I've taught these classes to thousands of people with disabilities over the years.
In those classes we teach people with disabilities about a body part that remains controversial to this very day.
In those classes we teach people with disabilities about a tool that they have at their ready disposal.
It's clear that Michael has them both.
Let's hope that Milo will too.