A Canadian mother of a boy with Down syndrome penned an open letter on Facebook to a woman who allowed her son to exclude him from his birthday party, to which his entire class was invited.
Her post has since gone viral.
“I know we don’t know each other well but my son Sawyer and your child are in the same class," Jennifer Kiss-Engele wrote in a June 24 Facebook post. "I understand that your child recently delivered birthday invitations to the entire class except to Sawyer, who was not invited. I also understand that this was not an oversight on your part, that it was an intentional decision to not to include my son.”
Kiss-Engele goes on to say that she does not expect Sawyer to be invited to every birthday party, but in this particular situation he was excluded because he has Down syndrome.
“You have invited all 22 other children from the class except for my son. I know it’s not because he’s mean, you couldn’t meet a happier child,” she wrote. “I know it’s not because he’s not fun, he has a great sense of [humor] and an infectious laugh. I know it’s not because your child and him don’t get along, he’s brought up your child’s name on several occasions."
“The only reason why you decided it was OK to not invite my son to your child’s birthday party is because he has Down Syndrome," the mother declared.
Kiss-Engele states that she is not mad at the woman, but thinks she did not want Sawyer at the birthday party because she is not informed, is scared or feels uncertain about what it means to have Down syndrome.
She thinks inviting Sawyer to the party would have been an opportunity for the mother to get to know him better and learn about the disorder.
“…Having Down Syndrome doesn’t mean that you don’t want to have friends. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have feelings. It doesn’t mean you don’t like to go to birthday parties,” Kiss-Engele wrote. “People with Down Syndrome want the same things that you and I want.
“They want to have close relationships, they want to feel love, they want to contribute, they want to have meaningful lives, and they want to go to birthday parties," the open letter continued. "It may be more difficult at times to understand my child. But the laughter and love that you share doesn’t need interpretation.”
Had the woman told her son to not exclude Sawyer, Kiss-Engele thinks it would have been a good opportunity for the child to learn a life lesson.
“[Children] will remember the time that their parent said to them, it’s not OK to leave someone out because of their disability, race or gender,” she wrote.
Kiss-Engele does not place all the blame on the mother. She admits that she should have done more to educate his classmates and their families on Down Syndrome.
“I realize that it’s my obligation as his parent and advocate to educate people more about what it means to have Down Syndrome and how they are more like you than different," she wrote. "I now know how important it is to talk about it and it’s something I am committed to doing a better job of."
Kiss-Engele’s Facebook post has been shared thousands of times and was read by the mother of the child who excluded Sawyer from his birthday party.
“I want you to know that there is a happy ending to this story,” Kiss-Engele wrote in an update to her Facebook post. “The parent read my letter, spoke to their child about Sawyer, and the child created a special birthday invite for Sawyer. Of course he's been beaming ever since and can't stop talking about it.”
Theresa Preston, general manager of the Lower Mainland Down Syndrome Society, believes Kiss-Engele’s Facebook post addressed the situation well.
“It is heartbreaking for the parents of any child when they feel that their child is not being part of something,” she told The Province.
“But I think it hits doubly hard because it reminds you that your child does have special needs and that as life goes on, and kids get older, that separation does happen with their typical classmates,” she added.
Kiss-Engele hopes her letter will encourage parents to have an open dialogue with their children about those with special needs.