“Giving, serving and helping others by performing selfless acts will result in a happier and loving environment filled with people who desire peace. ” – Dawn Smith
I met Dawn through Instagram. She has an incredibly warm spirit and passion for people; it transcends the digital space, making her an immediate kindred spirit. We’ve stayed in touch and developed a friendship over the last few months, and each day I find myself looking forward to seeing how her life is unfolding and how she continues to spread her message of love and acceptance.
As this week’s #WCW Spotlight, Dawn shares how the birth of her son, Jake, gave her a renewed drive to encourage others to act in love.
Me: Through your photos and messages on Instagram, your personality exudes love and acceptance. Have these two qualities always been a pervading theme in your life?
Dawn: I have been fortunately blessed with parents who exude love and acceptance for one another and others. These qualities have always been a pervading theme in my life, and qualities I instill in my children and enforce each day.
Me: Your son, Jake, is living with Down syndrome. What was it like for you and your husband when the doctor delivered the news?
Dawn: Jake’s diagnosis of Down syndrome was not detected during my pregnancy, so to say we were shocked when the doctor delivered the news is an understatement. Having a medical background, I had fleeting thoughts of ways to fix him, repair him and make him all better….but soon came to the reality of our fate. I retreated to my strong love for God, and believed in my heart that this child was placed in my care with a purpose. At that moment, I vowed to be the best mom I could be and became thankful for this blessing.
Me: Since Jake was first diagnosed, how have you seen your spirit and priorities change? What about in those around you?
Dawn: Since Jake was first diagnosed, my priorities changed as my goals for him changed. I had to give up my hopes and dreams that I envisioned for my son. That was the biggest challenge for me as I had to readjust my thinking. There were times where my spirit became deflated as I realized Jake would not be able to achieve certain goals or follow in the footsteps of his father. It was the fear of the unknown and worrying if he was going to be capable of reaching developing milestones.
My incredible family and network of friends shared the same feelings as I, but most certainly never allowed me to stay in fear provoked thoughts for long. We were all determined to help him thrive and achieve his greatest potential no matter what it took.
Me: The universe really worked to bring Jake into your life. Your journey has been a unique one that has defied many odds. Yet, you have worked hard to treat Jake equal to your other two children, when it comes to how you raise them. What are the results you’ve seen from these efforts?
Dawn: Most parents of twins quickly realize that what you do for one twin, you do for the other. It’s the only way to survive. The same concept applied with my twins. It was just a natural way of survival to keep them on the same schedule. When Jake’s twin was rolling over, sitting up, walking and holding her own bottle, I expected my son to do the same thing, and to our surprise, he did with ease. Olivia, has been a another unforeseen blessing in Jake’s journey as she quickly morphed into his best friend and second maternal figure. Olivia is his special angel for sure.
Me: Jake has grown up with two sisters, one a twin sister, and neither has Down syndrome. He goes to school and is placed in classes with other kids who do not have Down syndrome. How have you seen Jake’s presence affect the children in your life, not just your kids, but the children he goes to school with daily?
Dawn: Jake is in an inclusion program and is mainstreamed with typical peers. He is presently in fifth grade and has been with the same group of students since kindergarten. I have witnessed these children surround Jake and his sisters with love, compassion, and kindness where they’ve supported him when necessary as well as celebrate every milestone, no matter how rudimentary. They treat him with respect and that is all I could hope for.
Me: A comment you made once that really resonated with me is that you have a rule for each of your kids – they must do something nice for someone else every day. Why is this rule so important to you? What do you hope it teaches your children?
Dawn: This rule is simple and one I think is often neglected. I believe all children should grow up understanding that people are not born with malice, it is taught. Things do not matter, people do. A smile is contagious, anger is a disguise for pain, and pain is healed by love. Giving, serving, and helping others by performing selfless acts will result in a happier and loving environment filled with people who desire peace.
Me: Has giving back and caring for others always been a priority in your life? Or something that came about when Jake (and your other two kids) came into your life?
Dawn: Giving back has been a vital component of my upbringing as well as, being a caregiver. I continued my education in physical therapy in order to devote my life towards helping others. This has certainly magnified since my son has been born and our efforts have also been directed towards raising thousands of dollars for the Special Olympics each year.
Me: What is one stereotype or assumption about kids living with Down syndrome that you and Jake would like to see changed in your lifetime?
Dawn: An assumption I believe that most people make is that children with Down syndrome “don’t get it.” That is simply not true. I am personally guilty of this and realized this is not the case. Jake understands everything I say, including sarcasm. I may have to rephrase my question or listen a little closer to what he’s telling me, but make no mistake, there is nothing that gets past him. Patience and persistence is necessary in order to communicate needs and wants effectively. If he acts out, becomes angry or upset, there is a valid reason behind every negative emotion. Society needs to give these children a chance to be heard and be able to clearly express what it is they’re feeling with help.
Also, another misleading stereotype is that children with Down syndrome are always happy. This is not completely true. They do experience very strong feelings of anger, sadness, and feel upset for validated reasons. The “upside of down” is they have a beautiful capacity to forgive easily, forget without holding a grudge and move forward with swift resiliency. I believe the world would be a much nicer place if more people had three copies of the 21st chromosome. We would eliminate a lot of hate.
Me: When people meet you and are introduced to your family, what is the one thing they are most surprised to learn?
Dawn: When people are introduced to my family they are most surprised to learn that we lead a normal life. We experience the craziness of having three children so close in age, the ups and downs that all families endure, but basically our day to day is just like everyone else. Modifications are minimal, parenting is exhausting, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Me: Your two daughters seem to have a very special relationship with their brother. How do you think growing up with a brother like Jake has affected them?
Dawn: My two daughters are exceptional little girls as a result of having a sibling with Down syndrome. My girls have learned a level of compassion and tolerance that many of their peers will never comprehend. I am proud of the ladies they are becoming and I hope they will continue to set an example for others.
Me: Given all your experiences over the years you’ve had with your children, the good and the bad, what is one thing you’d like to share with new parents who learn their child will grow up with Down syndrome? What is the one piece of advice you would want to share with someone who wants to follow in your footsteps of using what others view as a setback as an opportunity to teach others about love and acceptance?
Dawn: I think it is important for new parents to understand that every child is different. Stay off the Internet and do not fill yourself with the worry of what could be and what the statistics are. Focus on teaching your child to work within his or her individual potential. Do not coddle or enable your child simply because of a diagnosis of Down syndrome. Keep pushing with patience, because in time, they will get it. Parenting a child, albeit special needs or not, is the most difficult job in the world. Ask for help when you’re frustrated, do not neglect yourself, your spouse, or your other children. It’s not the end of the world. Your life will not change. You tackle each challenge as it comes like you would with typically developing children. The sooner we realize that we cannot change things that we cannot control, acceptance becomes easier. Worrying becomes useless and disrupts our peace because we allowed it to happen. Rest assured knowing that providing a loving environment regardless of the circumstances, will prevail.