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March 19, 2015

What I Learned from my Brother with Down Syndrome.

Down syndrome

I am the youngest of three children and the only girl.

I grew up in a single parent household and my oldest brother, Cairo, has down syndrome. Our relationship was love at first sight. From the moment my mom brought me home, Cairo took on the role of older brother and protector, and I’ve always been his little princess.

Growing up, I knew my brother was different—after all, he looked different and spoke differently, but it was never a “bad” kind of different. It was almost as if what made him different made him special. I have to credit my mom for that; she always made sure we knew how incredibly wonderful and special our brother was. She taught us to love and respect differences—not only with our brother, but with everyone else.

When I was about 9 years old, my brother was blowing up the Nicaraguan world of sports. In a place where knowledge and acceptance of intellectual disabilities was almost non-existent, my brother was pounding the walls and breaking stereotypes with persistence and will, becoming the first person with Down Syndrome to join the Nicaraguan Sports Hall of Fame for his incredible achievements in swimming.

And although his determination and tenacity have shaped my life in more ways than I could ever express, what really made me a better person was his kindness and his remarkably big heart.

Growing up, I never realised how much influence he had in every decision I made. I always felt like if I ever wanted to do something, all I had to do was go for it—everything always felt reachable. I credit that to Cairo. Things were never within arm’s reach for him; he had to fight for everything he wanted. He had to crack through stereotypes and prove himself over and over again. And somehow he always managed to do so, with the love of our wonderful mother.

So he gave me the most incredible gift you can give your little sister: the confidence to go after my dreams. If Cairo could do it, why couldn’t I?

My brother also taught me an incredible lesson of kindness. I remember growing up how cruel people were to him. Not everyone, but plenty. One time we were sitting outside of our home in Nicaragua. It was early afternoon and the three of us (my brothers and I) were playing on our sidewalk. A teenage boy passed by in a bicycle and screamed “Mongolito!!!” which translates to “Retard.” My brother was not even phased; he just kept on doing whatever he was doing. My other brother and I were furious—How could people be so cruel? But Cairo never reacted with anger. It was almost as if he always felt that people just didn’t know better. He is kind beyond measure and that kindness touched our spirits every single day.

Finally, Cairo taught me how to be a friend. Plenty of times Cairo has come into a room and seen me crying or sad, and he’s never demanded to know what’s going on or tried to preach to me. Most of the time, if not every time, he just sits next to me in silence, gives me a hug and caresses my hair. It’s almost as if he knows that if I wanted to speak about it I would be—if I’m crying alone, it’s because I don’t need advice; I need love. And that’s what he does best: give love.

I have not, by any means, mastered these lessons. I don’t have quite the patience or determination my brother has and I’m okay with that. That’s what role models are for—to give us something to strive for, to set an example.

I am the kind of person I am today thanks to all the beautiful lessons he has taught me. Any kindness, peacefulness and warmth in my heart was awoken by the beautiful light Cairo shines. I am who I am because he was brave enough to be who he is, and for that I am forever grateful.

~

Author: Ros Prado

Editor: Caroline Beaton

Photo: Courtesy of the author 

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Ros Prado