Escaping to Paradise

Celebrating Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

March 20, 2012 Prism Newsletter
By Tonia Ferguson

March marks the beginning of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. During this month, many people and organizations across the country raise awareness about issues facing individuals with developmental disabilities. However, raising awareness is not only a goal for this month. For half a century, The Arc and its chapter network have made tremendous progress promoting and protecting the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This work continues every day at national, state, and local chapters.

In the United States, one in five families have a member with a disability. You can probably think of many families that you know that have individuals with developmental disabilities. These individuals and families face unique challenges every day. Some of these issues include those written in the newsletter this month, like empowering women to achieve in their lives regardless of obstacles and informing people with autism and other developmental disabilities and their families on steps they can take to avoid difficulties in visiting places of worship. However, these are only two of the immense number of challenges that people with developmental disabilities and their families may confront in their daily lives. Raising awareness about the issues that people with developmental disabilities and their families face is critical because it encourages other people in society to expand their understanding of the complexity and variety of issues that people with developmental disabilities face every day.

At the same time raising awareness about issues may cause people who do not have loved ones with disabilities to think that families and individuals with developmental disabilities may fantasize about escaping to a paradise with no cares or worries because they’re overwhelmed by the challenges. That people who have a developmental disability or have loved ones with a developmental disability may not be able to experience all of the wonderful things life has to offer. On the contrary, in my own personal experience – having and raising my son – who has Down syndrome, has been like an escape to my personal paradise. Jared has taught me more about acceptance, helping others, and unconditional love than anything else. I have been given the gift to have such a unique, fun, and wonderful child. We have struggles in our lives, but – like every other parent or family – we work together to create a balance and to support each other.

This idea of being aware of both the struggles and the joy that people with developmental disabilities may have in their lives is a key aspect for this month. For those of you who also share in both the daily challenges and the happiness of being a person with developmental disabilities or having a loved one with developmental disabilities, I challenge you to educate others on the challenges, joy, possibilities, and potential of people with developmental disabilities. March is our month to focus our country’s attention on these issues, and I encourage you to participate in sharing and celebrating your stories!

Tonia Ferguson is the Director of the Autism NOW Center.

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