I got a text message from my friend Brittany the other day.
It was purely emojis: hearts, stars and flowers. These are my favorite because they feel like her. Brittany has Down Syndrome.
When I’m with her, I talk less and laugh more. We hold hands, hug and always, always find time to sing.
I met Brittany Schiavone two years ago, when she was 25 years old and had started a nonprofit organization called Brittany’s Baskets of Hope. Her mission was—and is—to spread support, resources and, of course, love to families that have newly welcomed a child with Down Syndrome into their lives.
Brittany’s life is her message. Every day, she shares photos of her life with her 400-odd followers on Facebook: drinks and appetizers on a Friday night with friends, home-cooking for Taco Tuesday, spinach-mango-banana smoothies as she learns to lead a healthy and vibrant life, photos of her at work, in a play, in a meeting or going to see a Broadway show.
No, she hasn’t let Down Syndrome stop her.
I remember first meeting her and thinking to myself, “How many 25-year-olds are living their purpose, or even know what it is?” And there she was refusing to let anyone shrink or diminish her.
Brittany has accomplished a lot in her young life. She graduated high school, attended three proms where she even had a few dances with a typical, handsome young man who befriended her and made her night. She strutted her stuff at two PTA Fashion Shows and walked the runway with that same young man and her high school principal. Her school photography projects traveled all the way to the state-level in competition. She danced, channeled her inner Chita Rivera in local theater productions, and flipped, galloped and swam as a Special Olympics athlete. And now she’s headed to college this fall for her first university-style class designed for students with special needs.