Written By: Lydia Beckman
I was four years old when I found out I was going to be a big sister, and I was as excited as a little girl could be. When my brother was born, we found out he had a third copy of his 21st chromosome, which is what causes Down Syndrome. He was also born with a hole in his heart. When he was old enough, he got his surgery and came home, and I’ve been in love ever since. My parents didn’t know much about this disorder, so we did a lot of learning along the way. There was constantly speech and occupational therapists coming in and out of the house, and all the attention was put on my brother, Ryan. It was hard to communicate with him for a while because of the developmental delays that come along with Down Syndrome, so we tried learning sign language and interpreting his sounds. I can’t remember when, but I feel like it was somewhere around 4 or 5 that Ryan started talking, and he hasn’t stopped since. Growing up with a younger brother who has Down Syndrome was challenging, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I never thought I could learn so much from my brother, who is not only five years younger than me, but who is also a boy! Ryan has opened my eyes to a whole new world.
I have been surrounded by him and his friends, who also have Down Syndrome, for 16 years now, and I can whole-heartedly say that they are the best kids I have ever met. My brother has a positive outlook on everything in life and he is my biggest inspiration. The kid is 16 years old and just learned how to tie is shoes in the past 7 months, but he never once tripped over his laces growing up. Everything I do, I do with him in mind and trying to have his same positive, happy outlook on life. He is definitely one of the most competitive kids I know, and turns everything we do into a competition. Even though losing to him does get annoying, him doing this has made me push myself harder than I ever thought I could. He has helped me become the athlete that I am, and when I’m on the field, whether it be at practice or in a game, I think about all of our competitions and it drives me to give 110% effort. Ryan is also one of the funniest people I have ever met, constantly making my abs hurt from laughing until I cry. The tears, however, haven’t always been happy. There have been many struggles throughout Ryan’s 16 years, from school to health care and family issues. I believe that the positivity radiating from this little boy who saw no difference between him and his sisters is what got us through the tough times.
When Ryan was around 10, one of the seniors at one of the high schools started a camp for kids with Down Syndrome as her senior project, and she had no idea the impact it would have. My dad enrolled Ryan in the first year, and it was so successful that it had to become an annual thing, so of course I started volunteering. This past summer was my 4th year at the camp, and I feel extremely blessed that this was introduced into my life. Each counselor is paired with a camper that has Down Syndrome for a week of activities, but it is so much more than that. It’s a common thought that we, the counselors, are the ones brightening these kids’ lives by building new friendships, but it is the complete opposite. The camp is held the first week of August and it is definitely the thing I look forward to the most once the summer begins. If it wasn’t for Ryan, I would probably not have known about it or volunteered, and I would be a completely different person than I am now. He has helped me find myself and find the confidence to be myself. Wherever he goes, if there’s music, he’ll sing and dance without a care in the world. He is so outgoing that everybody knows him, and even though I graduated from our high school a year before he got there, I am known as “Ryan’s sister”, but I’m okay with that because he is an amazing kid. I think it is extremely important that everyone is given a first chance because you never know what kind of great bonds can be built from opening your eyes and hearts to everyone, and accepting the fact that differences are what makes each one of us so special.