by Toni Masullo
When I was about seven years old, my Aunt Jeanie moved into my home after my grandparents could no longer care for her on their own due to multiple health problems. Being so young, I couldn’t quite understand why Jeanie looked a little different, or why she wasn’t living on her own. I was curious in learning what Down syndrome was, and how it would affect our family dynamic. I am very fortunate to have parents who were willing to teach my older sister and I what Down syndrome was, and how it really makes no difference in the way that we treat people.
Throughout middle school and high school, I became heavily involved in working with the special education classrooms and Special Olympics. I loved the idea of the “Inclusion Revolution” that my school implemented, because I wanted my classmates to understand that Down syndrome is not a disability, but rather, it is a unique perspective into life that we get the privilege to explore with our loved ones together. My family has learned so much from Jeanie, probably way more than she will ever learn from us. Jeanie has taught me what patience and kindness is; she has also taught me what resiliency looks like (especially when she wants to eat a big scoop of ice cream or peanut butter- she won’t take ‘no’ for an answer!). She knows how to make people smile through her chattiness, singing, and dancing. Jeanie radiates so much joy, that you can’t help but join in on the fun.
I truly think that Jeanie has helped shape me into the person that I am becoming. She has helped lead me to my career goals, and has taught me simple life lessons that everyone could use. I am so thankful that she came into my life at such a young age, because I was able to learn what love looks like in one of the simplest forms. More than anything, Jeanie has become like a sister, rather than an aunt, to me.