After her son was not invited to a class birthday party, Jennifer Engele of Langley, British Columbia, took to Facebook to address the issue.
Engele told ABC news that when invitations were handed out at school, her son Sawyer was the only child who did not receive one. She states that she initially decided to sleep on the incident and think about how to handle it later on. While she was not one to air her dirty laundry on social media, this was an issue that was too important to not share.
“I have a lot of Facebook friends that have children with special needs as well as typical kids. I’m not one to share my dirty laundry on Facebook. I felt that it was an important message to share and hopefully make people stop and think about including kids in birthday parties that might not necessarily have been included.”
Engele states that she first sent an email to the parents of the student throwing the party. She then shared the email on Facebook.
It read, in part:
“I am sorry that you are not informed, maybe scared, or uncertain about what it means to have Down syndrome. I know if you knew more about Down Syndrome you wouldn’t have made this decision. I am not mad at you. Rather, I think this is an opportunity for you to get to know my son better. You see, having Down Syndrome doesn’t mean that you don’t want to have friends. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have feelings. It doesn’t mean you don’t like to go to birthday parties. People with Down Syndrome want the same things that you and I want. They want to have close relationships, they want to feel love, they want to contribute, they want to have meaningful lives, and they want to go to birthday parties…”
The letter received 33,000 reactions on Facebook, a surprise even to Engele.
“I never thought it would get as much attention as it did. I have received so many comments from parents that have said the same thing happened t their child and they didn’t have the courage to say anything.”
On June 24, the parents replied to the email to inform her that they discussed Down syndrome with their child, who even sent a special invitation to Sawyer.
“Sawyer was beaming, he ran up and showed me the invitation, he was so happy,” Engele said. “I think it can leave such a positive impression on a typical child to have a true friendship with another child that has special needs,” she added. “I also think it’s so important for the child that has special needs to have these friendships as well. Often people with special needs live in isolation, only having friendships with their family or caregivers. It’s so important for people with special needs to have these relationships and be included. I hope that parents will consider making that one extra special invitation with their child to include someone who may not have been included before.”
Engele states that she is glad to see a happy ending come out of the situation, and that it would be helpful to speak to the class about Down syndrome next year.
Mike Nickas received his Bachelor of Arts in Film and Multimedia Studies at Florida Atlantic University in December of 2015, and is currently pursuing his second BA at the University of South Florida in psychology with a minor in education. He is the former host of the online news show The Week in Neurodiversity. He also currently works for Dr. Mike Rizzo’s Child Provider Specialists in Weston, FL.