When 8-year-old Sawyer was the only child in his class who didn't get an invite to a birthday party, his mom Jennifer Kiss-Engele knew: it was because her child had Down syndrome.
It was this pain of seeing such a happy child "with a great sense of humor and an infectious laugh" left out that prompted the mom from British Columbia to write an open letter on Facebook about the lesson of exclusion.
"I know it's not because he’s mean; you couldn't meet a happier child," she says.
The post is addressed to the "parent who thought it was OK to invite the entire class to their child's birthday except for my son."
What It Means To Have Down Syndrome
Kiss-Engele doesn't have any expectations that Sawyer would be invited to every single birthday party.
But when her son was the only one excluded — while all other 22 kids in the class received an invite — the incident made her realize her duty "as his parent and advocate to educate people more about what it means to have Down syndrome."
And, more importantly, about how people like Sawyer are "more like you than [they are] different."
"Having Down syndrome doesn't mean that you don't want to have friends," Kiss-Engele shares. "It doesn't mean that you don’t have feelings. It doesn't mean you don’t like to go to birthday parties."
In a clear, powerful voice, she speaks out: "People with Down syndrome want the same things that you and I want."
The incident was an opportunity for the other parent "to get to know my son better," Kiss-Engele believes.
Her post explains how people with Down syndrome also appreciate close relationships: "They want to feel love; they want to contribute; they want to have meaningful lives."
'I Was Also Like You: Scared, Uncertain, Misinformed'
Before having Sawyer in her life, Kiss-Engele recounts, she was also "scared, uncertain and misinformed about Down syndrome."
"I was so worried that my other children wouldn't be able to connect with him in the same way as other siblings do. But I was wrong."
The experience of having a brother with Down syndrome has, in fact, taught her family to be compassionate and unafraid to help others who are struggling, or approach those whom they "might not fully understand." The fulfillment is in having Sawyer as their best friend.
Kiss-Engele hopes to educate her son's class about Down syndrome the way other parents have been reaching out to their own communities to better inform people about the condition.
In the end, the other parent was moved by Kiss-Engele's open letter, which has since received 26,000 Likes and more than 8,000 shares, and Sawyer received a special birthday invite.
"I hope that parents who read this will help open that dialogue with their own child and perhaps make that one 'extra' invitation," she concludes.
'My Child Is Perfect': Another Mother Speaks Out
A few weeks ago, another mom posted her own open letter to a doctor who advised her to get an abortion after her child, while in the womb, was found to have Down syndrome.
Courtney Baker believes the doctor was wrong for saying her daughter would decrease her family's quality of life. In truth, the child has given Baker's life purpose and an indescribable joy.
"My child is perfect," Baker shares.