It was the late fall of 1982. The first semester of my junior year at the University of Kansas was almost finished, and my girlfriend’s sorority’s fall service project was to help with the Lawrence Special Olympics bowling competition. They were short on help, so my future wife asked me to tag along.
What follows was what I like to call “God’s audition to be parents of a disabled child.“ We had a wonderful time bowling, laughing, and eating with these young adults. Most of them had Down syndrome, but several others had different cognitive or physical disabilities. Regardless, my future wife and I left that event very happy that we had been involved, and wondering whether we should volunteer for future Special Olympics activities.
Little did we know what God had in store for us.
Helping with that bowling tournament was like being a grandparent. It was great fun while it lasted, but the kids weren’t really “yours.“
But once that disabled child comes home with you from the hospital, things begin to change. Slowly and imperceptibly at first. The first time we went to a Down Syndrome Guild meeting was just after our oldest son was born, seven years and a few months after that fateful Saturday in November 1982. I distinctly remember walking into the Guild meeting room, full of families who had also just entered the world of special-needs children, and experiencing a very familiar feeling.
I was instantly transported back to the 6th grade, when the class of disabled kids was in the self-contained classroom next door to my homeroom. As they walked by our door, from lunch or the playground, I remember feeling an uneasy mixture of fear and pity. Fear, in not knowing what “those kids“ might do. And pity, at once thankful that I was not among them, and believing that their lives must be something less than mine.
Thankfully, over the years that all changed. It started with events like Special Olympics, where I could actually meet disabled kids, and grow to like them.
And then, I joined their dads.
Within a span of just a few short months, all those kids in the Down Syndrome Guild became my kids. It was impossible to know them all well, but 28 years later, I still know their names. William, Sean, Matthew, another Stephen, Kyle, Paul.
And their parents became some of our very best friends.
How appropriate it is, then, that our son’s favorite activity is….
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I’d love to hear from you about your experiences with a disabled person in your life. Please take a few moments to leave a comment. It only takes a few seconds!