Besides changing our own perceptions and not accepting outdated limiting beliefs, we can help professionals and others shift their thinking so they are tuned in to see a person’s unique humanity . . . not only a generalized diagnosis.

Our adult daughter, Vanessa, needed a routine eye surgery. I wanted the doctor to understand her beyond her Down syndrome features and the few facts he learned in Medical School.

We support her desire to sell her art by turning her work into Art Note Cards. Her art is on the front of the card and her photo & ‘Bio’ are on the back: “Vanessa loves Special Olympic Basketball, is a thoughtful and generous person & has a Yellow Belt in Martial Arts.”

At the appointment before the surgery, he asked her what she hoped the eye surgery would do for her and she quickly replied, “So I can see better when I do my art.” He nodded and smiled.

The morning of the surgery we gave a variety pack of the Art Cards to the nurses, and asked them to share with each other and the doctor. He came by before the surgery and said, “Vanessa, your note cards are nice. You colored those pictures that were already drawn, right?”

“No doctor, I drew those pictures all by myself.” He glanced at me, and I nodded. “Wow, I’m impressed. I’m glad this surgery is going to help you continue being such a good artist.” He spoke of her art on each subsequent visit and even remembered she was an artist at a check-up 3 years later!

I’m positive that really knowing a little about Vanessa’s strengths, rather than only her text-book diagnosis, was a perception adjustment he’ll never forget.

At the WINGS Day Program I founded and ran for a number of years, both the staff and I sometimes had limited expectations and perceptions of the participants’ abilities. When we wondered if our clients could do something I’d say, “Well, we won’t know unless we try, so let’s try it.”

We asked staff to remember to ‘take it up a notch’ and offer a variety of complex projects and classes. The participants surprised us with their participation and interests in:

  • Sign language class
  • Filming
  • Writing poetry
  • Creating collaborative mural art projects
  • Learning how to make bird houses, doing all the hammering, sawing, painting by themselves (with someone overseeing them for safety)
  • Learning martial arts at a local company. Every participant wore their own Gi. Each was encouraged and supported to gain belt levels according to their ability, some even broke boards with both their hands and their feet and learned to count to 10 in Korean
  • Attending weekly classes at a local dance studio where some clients chose to participate in dance performances in the community
  • Participating in local art shows and visiting with attendants in person for the “Meet the Artists night” to talk about their art piece
  • Giving back to the community by learning how to knit hats to donate &/or give as gifts

We never know how capable someone can be until we give them a chance.

My Creative Hands and Fish in a Bowl by Vanessa Cox