Have you ever called someone a “retard” or “retarded.”
I guess that many people have used those words.
But that changed when I was 12
I was 12 when my mother gave birth to my youngest sibling, Jimmy.
Jimmy, now 53, has Down’s syndrome.
In the past he would have been called retarded. Or many other words that people have used over the years.
According to their Website, Global Down Syndrome Foundation, “People with Down syndrome used to be labeled ‘idiots, morons,’ and ‘imbeciles’ by both society and the medical profession. The label evolved into ‘Mongoloid, handicapped, mentally retarded, retarded,’ and then for short, retard.’”
I don’t tweet but, I heard that Ann Coulter referred to President Obama as a “retard” in a tweet during a Monday night presidential debate.
Ann Coulter, a journalist and author, should have known better.
Though they were using the term “Downs’ syndrome” when Jimmy was born, he could have been called retarded.
But if that was the label you used for Jimmy you would have been wrong.
Jimmy was so much more.
I call him a Renaissance Man.
Jimmy has unique talents. He colors designs with geometric-type patterns. He has a great eye for choosing just the right colors and repeating the scheme throughout the drawing.
Since those days he has truly become an artist. His work has been exhibited in art shows and at a gallery. He has sold many of his works.
Jimmy can read and write and has been a liturgist many times in church.
He graduated from Brick High School in New Jersey and found a job. He has learned line-dancing, square dancing, singing, sail boating, cross country skiing and numerous other sporting skills. For many years Jimmy was a Special Olympian. He's won more medals, ribbons and trophies than his remaining six siblings combined.
When he was 17, Jimmy was featured in a book with five other Downs children called “From 17 Months to 17 Years...A Look at Down’s Syndrome.”
My brother's chapter was aptly entitled, “Jimmy—Age 17 Years: Love...”
When Jimmy was born 53 years ago, my parents were given a choice.
The doctor said, “You can give him up or you can take him home and love him.”
That was back in the dark ages when institutionalization was still a very real possibility for kids like Jimmy. But it wasn’t a possibility for Jimmy, not if you knew Bob and Emily Reed, his parents, my parents.
It wasn’t a choice at all.
It's hard for me to remember just how I felt when my mother first told me the news about Jimmy. It was June 21, 1967, and I would soon enter high school. I'm sure I had some fear about the future—his and ours. What would it be like to have a “retarded” brother?
That came mostly from ignorance.
But it went away the first time I saw him and held him. My Mom said she can still picture me gazing at him lying in his bassinet for the longest times.
I don’t remember those days. But my mother did.
Usually when I tell someone my brother has Down’s syndrome they say they're sorry. My reply is always the same, “Don't be.”
I can't imagine my family without him. Although my family was already large, it wasn't complete until my baby brother came home.
“From the day Jimmy was born, Bob, Emily and his brothers and sisters have shown him endless love,” the book stated. “Jimmy's life has been filled with love.”
Received and given.
It's evident in his smile. Jimmy has got the greatest smile. The book is opened on my desk. I can't help but smile myself every time I look at it.
There's one photo of him with a friend. And another one of him serving up a cheeseburger at a cookout. In another, he's standing at the lectern for a reading at Mass. And in one more he's sitting on his bed with an array of trophies, ribbons and medals, with my parents proudly standing behind him.
I also like the sporting ones where he's at the edge of the swimming pool, getting instructions from a coach. And bowling.
But I have two favorites.
He and brother Stan are standing next to each other, hugging and smiling in the first. In the second, Jimmy and a friend are sitting on a gym floor, leaning against the bleachers, laughing and having a good time.
Stan, 18 months my junior, became a special ed teacher, a great special ed teacher, because of Jimmy and his impact.
Because of Ann Coulter’s tweet John Franklin Stephens, a 30-year-old Special Olympic athlete and a man with a real message addressed Coulter. I saw it on Facebook. If you haven’t seen it, you should.
Stephens also spoke at the United Nations in 2018. He was asked to tell you how someone might improve the lives of people with Down syndrome.
He said, “The key is right there in my opening paragraph. It begins with ‘I am a man.’ See me as a human being, not a birth defect, not a syndrome. I don't need to be eradicated. I don't need to be cured. I need to be loved, valued, educated and, sometimes, helped.”
I would like to meet him.
Ann Coulter should meet him.
It’s too easy to call Jimmy a kid. After all, he is my youngest brother. And he’s short. But when I remember Jimmy now, and John Franklin, I’ll used the words I’ve used for Jimmy early, truly a Renaissance Man.
My life wouldn’t be complete without him.
Author and historian Rick Reed has been writing about Florida's Lake and Sumter counties since 1991 in The Daily Commercial, The Lake Sentinel and Lake Magazine. His Reminisce column, which looks at local history in Lake and Sumter counties has appeared in The Daily Commercial since 1998. He served as the City curator of the Leesburg Historical Museum from 2003 to 2008 and wrote the Sesquicentennial History of Leesburg in 2008, a 240-plus page book of Leesburg’s history.