When her child was not invited to a classmate's birthday party, Jennifer Kiss-Engele needed no brainstorming to know why the kid was the only one excluded.
Sawyer is not a mean kid, his beaming smile a permanent fixture on his face. He is not a bully, seeking out his victims in the school playground. What's more, Sawyer and the child who threw a part get along well. But Sawyer has Down's Syndrome, a grossly misunderstood disorder.
People, with little knowledge and sometimes, concern, about Down's Syndrome, choose to steer clear of the disorder.
Jennifer decided to write an open letter to the parent hosting the party. In her letter, she muses why Sawyer was not invited.
"I know it's not because he's mean, you couldn't meet a happier child. I know it's not because he's not fun, he has a great sense of humour and an infectious laugh. I know it's not because your child and him don't get along, he's brought up your child's name on several occasions. The only reason why you decided it was OK to not invite my son to your child's birthday party is because he has Down Syndrome."
Jennifer also imparted an important parenting lesson; our children may have been conditioned by society's implicit racism, sexism or ableism, but it's up to parents to step in and help their children unlearn these messages.
"Maybe you are struggling with the words to say to your child because your child did not want my son at their birthday party. Maybe you let your child decide that it was OK to single someone out. I know it can be difficult to teach our children about something we may not understand ourselves. I struggle with this as well. But this is a great opportunity and life lesson to have with your child. They will remember the time that their parent said to them, it's not OK to leave someone out because of their disability, race, or gender."
The letter neared its end with a heartbreaking realization; Sawyer had not been invited to too many birthday parties that year. He had simply not 'make the cut'.
The post blew up on the internet, with more than 3000 shares on Facebook, and an outpouring of support. People shared their own stories of living with children and uncles who have Down's Syndrome.
Jennifer shouldered the blame for such treatment of her son, too, saying that she should have been more active in educating parents and children regarding her son's condition and helped him fit in more easily.
There is, however, a silver lining. The letter, aimed at educating and not shaming, did its job. The parent organizing the party reached out to her.
"The parent read my letter, spoke to their child about Sawyer, and the child created a special birthday invite for Sawyer," wrote Kiss-Engele, of Langley, B.C, referring to her son.
"Of course he's been beaming ever since and can't stop talking about it."
Sometimes, a little compassion, an effort at reaching out, is all that it takes to make this world a better place.