Changing Perceptions – One Middle School Play at a Time

Rachel just finished her 14th stage production. She was a missionary in Guys & Dolls at her middle school. This is her last year of middle school and her first time to audition for and be cast in a school play.  I am pretty sure she is the first student with Down syndrome to be in a play at her school and almost as sure that she is the first student with an intellectual disability. Being in a school play is different than the other venues we’ve done. That is not necessarily good or bad.  It is just different. Most of Rachel’s performances here have been through Christian Youth Theater Kansas City. CYTKC has the HEART (Helping to Encourage Awareness and Recognition in Theater) program which is designed to help with supports for students with special needs as needed. I think waiting until her 8th grade year was a good decision for us. The theater director could not have been more supportive. She has had Rachel for several classes so she has gotten to know her and us. She, the chorale director and choreographer began working with us in the spring to determine what accommodations might be made for Rachel’s audition. Rachel auditioned just like the other students and waited for the cast list just like the other students. Like the other middle school girls, there was some girl drama. The team was very complimentary of her throughout rehearsals and productions. They provided music to her voice teacher so she could practice with her. They used her iPad to video some parts of the rehearsals so Rachel could see and hear herself.  It helped.  Overall, she was treated her like the other students.

g&d brittany kylee

Show week is always hectic and fun.  I was in charge of organizing cast meals so I got a little extra glimpse of how things worked. I usually work the Green Room so I specifically requested not to work the Green Room for this show. That was a big step for mom, too! I needed to be sure someone was paying attention so that Rachel didn’t come out half-dressed!  The teachers assigned students to help her.  The backstage parents told me they were impressed with Rachel’s behavior and focus. They also told me they were impressed with how the kids knew what to do and how to help her if she looked like she needed it.  The show was a huge success. One of the better middle school musicals I have seen. They have some enormous talent and great leadership.

G&d g&d G&D crusade

I could leave you there and that would be enough said,  but I have been thinking about something.  I often say I should write a book about the silly things, idiotic assumptions, and downright stupid things people say to and about those with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities. To be such a politically correct nation -the media is leader of the pack when it comes to using non-people first language and using utterly stupid and unthoughtful descriptions or comments about those with intellectual disabilities. Yes, I am saying stupid in my blog because there is just not another appropriate word.  Ignorant just doesn’t cover it all. There are so many to choose from, but my personal favorite “stupid, misguided, ignorant, inaccurate comment”  may be one that comes straight from many a newspaper/magazine article. “Those afflicted with Down syndrome may _______.”  Fill in the blank. I’m done when I hit afflicted because I assume this person is ignorant and possibly a hopeless case. However, I have written some of them to point out the error of their ways. Rachel may be a lot of things but she is not afflicted. If she is, we should all hope to be so afflicted. For some reason during the Guys and Dolls run, I kept thinking about that afflicted reference. As we experienced her participation and interactions with the other students, teachers, friends and theater patrons, I kept thinking about the people who think Rachel and others with Down syndrome shouldn’t be born because they are a burden to society. Why during such a time of fun and celebration would I be thinking of that?

Here’s my take away.  Rachel had 53 guests who specifically came to see her in the three day run of Guys & Dolls.  My house looks like a small flower shop.

G&D flower shop

She received  flowers from nine different people (one a delivery from friends who couldn’t come), several cards in the mail, some emails, one friendship bracelet, three cards at the show, some cookies and several other gifts.  She was not the lead and didn’t have a speaking line.  She was enthusiastic in the part she was given. One friend said “I love how her eyes twinkle on stage.” Another parent told me she couldn’t watch her own child because she was so drawn to Rachel’s smile. She was genuinely thrilled to see the people who came to see her. She was over the top excited to see her friends – especially those from CYT.  She was happy to have her part and worked very hard to be a good missionary.

Seems to me her part as a missionary was perfectly cast.  Her mission field may well be those afflicted with ignorance.

Yes, we are Changing Perceptions – One Middle School Play at a Time. And yes I am TheSassySouthernGal.

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