Learning from the learning disadvantaged

When I reflect on what I am grateful for, high on the list is having a son with Down Syndrome. Today (21st March, 2024) is World Down Syndrome Day – an annual event to celebrate the benefits that people with learning difficulties can bring to the world.

A few weeks ago, my son Jonathan competed in the Special Olympics GB Winter Games, held this year in Italy. It has taken him many years (he is now 37) to develop his skills, with the help of expert coaching adapted to his needs. Simple things, such as doing a figure of eight, are challenging for him. Yet he is able to perform to the best of his ability on an Olympic size ice rink, in front of a crowd.

Jonathan has taught me patience and what it’s like to see the world through the eyes of a perpetual child. At the same time, he shows remarkable patience in communicating, with his limited language ability. When he can’t immediately make himself understood, he keeps trying until he does. He is a role model for finding the joy in everyday simple things.

Having someone like Jonathan in the family is a privilege. The positive impact he has on all his extended family – brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews and more – is remarkable. He is a gentle soul, who brings out the best in everyone around him.

Many people don’t have the privilege to engage with a Jonathan. They miss out on the frequent reminder of the value of simplicity, of being patient and of sharing in the emotional high when someone of limited ability achieves what from their perspective is a major achievement.

In the corporate world, with its focus on efficiency, it’s easy to forget the contribution the less able bring to society. When we do remember, however, it makes us aware of our own frailties and limitations – and the courage we need to overcome them. The idea of the less able as role models may seem a bit strange at first, but once you get used to it, it is surprisingly liberating!

©️ David Clutterbuck 2024

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