“I’d be happy if people would think before they ask and stop beforehand. You don’t need to fill the space with empty speech,” says Anat Gat Dagan in a discussion about which words and concepts she needs to cope with in society since her sweet daughter Abigail was born with Down’s syndrome.
Some words she deals with are related to ‘retardation’ a word which was removed from use in Israeli society and is frowned upon in western society. “My Abigail has no retardation. There are developmental delays in people with Down syndrome and sometimes there are physical and mental disabilities. The concept of retardation was removed from use as far as Israeli law is concerned,” Anat explained to Ynet in an interview.
When Abigail tested positive for Down syndrome it didn’t diminish any love for her from them as parents and from her brother. “We learned to breathe and relax and we accepted Abigail with unparalleled love.”
That is fine for her own family; they had no trouble accepting Abigail as “the baby that entered their lives” the rest of society is less accepting. There are still many prejudices and dark preconceptions regarding Down syndrome. One example is the callous question people don’t stop asking: “How is it that you didn’t detect this?” Or the equally callous: “Why didn’t you ask for an amniocentesis test during pregnancy?” You get the idea.
Anat has ready answers for these thoughtless questions but she would prefer it if people would invest more thought before asking their questions and possibly conclude that their questions are callous and insensitive before they open their mouth. “After all, my baby is here and no question in the world will reverse the process and put her back into my womb and make her disappear. She’s here in the world to stay. So instead of asking ‘how can it be that you didn’t detect this in tests’ take a good look at her and ask: “How old is she? Does she crawl yet? Does she stand? Questions like these are nice.”
In other words, there are many ways to be impressed by my little girl and many others like her without making their parents uncomfortable asking questions that no every parent can answer or want to answer. “My daughter is not Abigail the strange one, the one who suffers or the piteous one,” shouts Anat pointing a finger at those who suffer from the ‘not accepting someone different syndrome’.
Those people are no less than disabled, lacking the ability to have an open heart and understanding that the world is filled with many types of people. “People with Down syndrome are still people! Some even get married and have children of their own who are born without Down syndrome. Some have driver’s licenses and hold down a job, integrating, being happy, dancing, getting mad and crying like anyone else. They are people just like us but as a society we haven’t yet accepted and internalized this.”