March 17, 2015

World Down Syndrome Day: 6 Life Lessons I Learned from my Cousin with Down Syndrome.

Courtesy of the author (Kerry Elam) Please do not reuse.

Before our beloved Uncle Steve and Aunt Bonny had their own family, my brother and I spent as much time as possible vacationing and exploring with them.

On our last vacation, as Bonny was about to give birth to her very own child, we settled on the name Lauren Brittany.

It was so exciting to name my soon-to-be cousin. We had bonded before she was even born.

Goodbyes were always sad, yet this time I was overjoyed with the upcoming birth.

Soon after we left, Lauren decided to come early.

At first, it was just concerns of being premature, followed by the news that she had down syndrome.

The Mayo Clinic explains down syndrome as

“a genetic disorder caused when abnormal cell division results in extra genetic material from chromosome 21. This genetic disorder, which varies in severity, causes lifelong intellectual disability and developmental delays, and in some people it causes health problems.”

My quest for research and understanding started at the age of eleven.

At that point, I was not questioning life, yet I began seeking answers to the “why.”

Honestly, the “why” is not relevant as we have learned that Lauren has unique gifts that have guided us with her bright spirit.

Here are six lessons we have learned from Lauren.

1. Speak the truth.

Being honest is challenging as we are constantly concerned about how others may feel with our truth.

There are many times when Lauren will step in and break up family arguments with her witty comments.

In one instance, there was discord at the dinner table and instead of adding to the explosion upon us, Lauren abruptly piped up,

“You will not talk to me like that, I am on my period and I not in the mood for any of this.”

She stood up and walked away. That honest comment made us laugh and saved the escalations.

2. Forgive easily.

Holding on and not letting go of past pain is how our egos justify being right.

Lauren has shown us how to check our egos at the door.

What happened yesterday was yesterday. The present moment is all that matters.

In the above example, she came back a few minutes later as if nothing had happened, no attitude, no chip on her shoulder.

3. Give compliments daily.

When we are around Lauren, we feel more beautiful. It never fails. With her empathetic nature, she readily gives compliments precisely as they are warranted.

She is able to verbally express what many of us want to say, but may hold back.

She loves to say, “Good morning beautiful.”

I have learned to be more generous with compliments. If one comes to mind, I do my best to model Lauren’s behavior.

4. Set goals to achieve. 

Lauren has been extremely goal oriented and has taught us to “never say never.”

Her parents ensured she was treated equally. She went to the same schools as her siblings and graduated from the University of North Florida in a program geared towards teaching sustainability.

It was her dream to be promoted to hostess at a local restaurant and to no surprise she achieved her goal.

5. Love fully and deeply.

How many times are we smitten and don’t take the risk to tell the other how we feel?

Lauren is the first to openly speak of love.

When she was younger, she would say she was going to marry Bo (my husband at the time). She did not care that we were together as she loved everything about him. I always admired how open she was about her feelings.

She now has a boyfriend that she is able shower him with her unconditional love.

6. Don’t take life too seriously.

Lauren is the first to make a joke, say “let’s have fun” or “let’s dance the night away.”

She loves to dance and sing and is always the life of any get together. She is the first to brush off mistakes and keeps moving forward. Nothing holds her back.

Bonny and Steve empowered their daughter to have the confidence to realize the best possible life. Lauren has her own apartment in a sponsored community, her dream job of hostess and is in a loving relationship.

She knows that family and friends are the most important things in life and that come tomorrow, all else is irrelevant.

Let’s use Lauren as an beautiful example to reach our own personal best, lift others up to shine, look for their unique gifts, see the bright side, realize the best in others and ourselves and celebrate what we have to offer.

*To learn more about the University of North Florida On Campus Transition Program, please visit their website.



The 5 Principles of Authentic Living.


Author: Kerry Elam

Apprentice Editor: Brandie Smith / Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Courtesy of the author.

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