My son Maxwell was born on World Down Syndrome Day (21 March) in 2014. This year's theme is #My FriendsMyCommunity and I've been thinking about how Maxwell has taught me about real inclusion and acceptance.
With a pre-natal diagnosis for Down's syndrome we were expecting Maxwell...or actually, we thought we knew what to expect.
The reality of the last two years has probably been as far removed from those early expectations as any of us could imagine. I had imagined we would have to work hard for him to be accepted into our community, but in reality it is him who works hard to include all of us.
Maxwell is a funny, mischievous and engaging little boy who makes us laugh every day. He loves to make people smile, waving to everyone as we walk down the street, beaming at anyone who looks his way. I love to watch the faces of strangers as they smile back at him. I have no idea if they know that he has Down's syndrome; they just see a gorgeous little boy, full of the joys of life, waving and smiling at them and they react to that.
Watching the way Maxwell interacts with others, regardless of how they present themselves, I have learnt about the power of acceptance. I have learnt not to focus on what he might not be able to do, but rather to acknowledge that he has his own, unique abilities and that it is these that need to be nurtured in order for him to truly flourish. Even at this young age, he has such an incredible sense of fun and a motivation to succeed that I have no doubt he will do amazing things with his life. We all just need to be open to the potential of what those things could be.
Maxwell has taught me to see things more from his perspective: to understand that we don't need to try to fit a square peg into a round hole; that there are simply holes of every shape for us all to fit into.
His ability to redefine my expectations never ceases to amaze me. Although Maxwell cannot yet walk or talk, it doesn't stop him from telling us exactly what he wants, leaving us falling over each other to help him get it, in the hope of one of his smiles, or even better, a cuddle in return. Maxwell loves to be the centre of attention, with his high-5's and cheers at every opportunity, and he'll do almost anything for a round of applause!
Maxwell also never fails to remind us that, first and foremost, he is a two year old boy with all the slugs and snails and puppy dog's tails (well, cat's tails in his case) that being a busy and curious toddler involves. Yet there is also such a gentleness about him as he listens and watches everything. It's as if Maxwell knows that happiness is the key...that by understanding and accepting each other, whoever we are, we can all feel included.
Maxwell has shown me that when we acknowledge our limitations, but embrace our talents, we can be accepted for who we are. With a little guidance and support and a lot of determination, anything is possible. He has taught me that we are not defined by what we can or can't do, but by our relationships and how we make other people feel. I now know that it is only me who limits my own potential.
As Maxwell turns two this World Down Syndrome Day and transitions from his specialist early years settings into a mainstream nursery, I am so proud of how much he's achieved and so grateful for everything he continues to teach us all about what inclusion and acceptance really mean.
Down syndrome or Down's syndrome: Down's syndrome is a genetic condition caused by the presence of an extra chromosome. Around one in every 1,000 babies is born with Down's syndrome. There are over 40,000 people with the condition in the UK.
Everyone with Down's syndrome will have some degree of learning disability. The most important thing to remember is that everyone with Down's syndrome is an individual, with their own strengths and weaknesses and personality traits that make them who they are.
The Down's Syndrome Association (DSA) is a registered (1061474) national charity that exists to provide information and support for people with Down's syndrome, their families, carers and those with a professional interest. The DSA seeks to improve knowledge and understanding and champion the rights of people with Down's syndrome. To find out more about the work of the DSA visit our website www.downs-syndrome.org.uk