Down Syndrome Awareness: Smiles on Planes, Trains

Children and all people with Down syndrome add much-needed joy to the world.

Natalie Sileo, 3, flies on a plane with her family on July 26, 2023.

By Tom Sileo Published on July 29, 2023

As soon as I saw this viral story about a precious young boy with Down syndrome greeting passengers on a train in France, I thought of our own daughter, Natalie.

We just returned from a trip to see my wife’s side of the family in Buffalo, New York. During the plane flight home to Florida, as you can see pictured above, Natalie’s face was lit up with a huge smile during almost the entire journey.

Just like the little boy with Down syndrome on the train in France, Natalie would wave and said “hi” to any passenger even remotely close to our seats. It made almost everyone’s day, as the brief encounters injected some much-needed happiness into a long day of air travel, which is a mostly miserable process these days.

Some parents of children with Down syndrome bristle when someone says their child is “always happy.” Indeed, Natalie and presumably the French boy, Isaac Drisch (also three years old), shed their share of tears on occasion. Yet it doesn’t bother my wife or me when someone says Natalie is “always happy,” because for the most part, she is. With all due love and respect to our oldest daughter, I have never seen a child smile more than Natalie.

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I have written this before and will do so again. People with Down syndrome and other special needs are not burdens to society. They are assets.

In a country that is increasingly dominated by division and hate, they are also treasures, as evidenced by the happiness two children with Down syndrome were able to bring to a plane in the United States and a train in France. No matter how rough a day each passenger might have been having, Isaac and Natalie gave them a fleeting, yet genuine moment of joy.

The second leg of our flight wound up being delayed and didn’t land in Florida until after midnight. Sure enough, Natalie was awake, clapping and once again waving to every passenger around her. Without her by our side, my wife, oldest daughter and I most likely would have been tired and miserable. Instead, we were all laughing, smiling and giving Natalie big hugs.

In a world full of darkness, people with Down syndrome and other special needs are the brightest of lights. They deserve to live, love and always be loved.

 

Tom Sileo is a contributing senior editor of The Stream. He is the author of the recently released Be Bold and co-author of Three Wise MenBrothers Forever8 Seconds of Courage and Fire in My Eyes. Follow Tom on Twitter @TSileo and The Stream at @Streamdotorg.

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