by Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith

From one parent of a child with Down syndrome to another.


Dear Mrs. Palin,

I’m sure you’re pretty busy juggling your home and new baby, the state of Alaska and running for vice president. But I thought a few words of advice are in order, from one parent of a child with Down syndrome to another. This is one area in which I’ve got four years more experience than you.

1. First of all, a belated mazel tov! You and your family will get tons of joy and nachas from Trig. Of the cases of Down syndrome diagnosed by prenatal testing each year, about 90% are eliminated by abortion. I bet most of those parents would choose otherwise if they knew the tremendous blessing entailed in raising such a child.

Enjoy all of his the triumphs, big and small. Our son Yehuda just started kindergarten; he is included in a regular class in one of Jerusalem’s best schools. He speaks two languages, is learning the Hebrew alphabet, and is excited to be going to the same school as his two older brothers.

2. Realize that Trig is not defined by his disability; he is first and foremost a person like anyone else. Every person has a unique mission and purpose in this world. Trig does too, and your job as his mother is to help him bring out his full potential, whatever that may be.

3. Don’t put a limit on Trig’s potential and sell him short. Expect the most. As his best advocate, inculcate in him and in those around you the belief that with hard work and determination, Trig can do anything, until proven otherwise. Don’t confuse accepting him as he is with resignation.

4. Don’t feel sorry for him because he has a disability. Treat him like your other children, setting limits, giving discipline and lots of love.

5. Trig needs loads of early intervention that will strengthen his muscles and work his brain. Get started on this immediately. Too busy campaigning? Make sure Todd or some primary caregiver is spending hours a day working with him. Everything you do now pays off in the end.

6. Trig is going to have greater needs than everyone else in your family. But be sure not to neglect your husband and other kids (good advice for anyone running for vice president). Making sure your marriage stays strong and vibrant is your top priority.

7. Appreciate his strengths — chances are he’ll have an awareness of people’s feelings and a compassion streak far greater than other kids his age. But don’t overcompensate and turn Trig into some kind of saint. He’s just a boy, with strengths and weaknesses like everyone else.

8. Things go a lot slower for a kid who has Downs. In order to enter Trig’s world you’re going to need an abundance of patience and force yourself to slow down. If you don’t have that trait now, start developing it. God doesn’t make mistakes; He gives us the specific challenges we need to bring out our own potential. You need Trig as much as he needs you. His birth can be a catalyst for personal growth for you and your entire family.

Your nomination has already challenged people’s perception of Down syndrome. Whether you win or lose, we look forward to great strides in the advancement of benefits for the disabled everywhere.

With thanks to Gershon Lewis and Chaya Malka Abramson, two inspiring parents of children with Downs.

Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith is the co-editor of and director of Research and Development for Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem.


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