Cousin Roger had Down Syndrome. Born during WWII, his doctor did not tell his mother the diagnosis right away. My aunt had enough to worry about.
Roger wasn’t welcome at holiday lets and hotels when the family vacationed in post-war England. So my uncle bought a caravan – we call them camper vans over here. Roger’s nieces and nephews and great-nieces and great-nephews still camp in caravans. Camping became a family tradition.
Cousin Roger was lucky. My aunt fought to ensure he had as “normal” a life as possible. She was an early advocate for sheltered workshops. She volunteered for a charity that supported the handicapable like my cousin. She never listened to the advice of the experts, who suggested she institutionalize him.
Roger was charming, with a wonderful sense of humour. He loved to tell stories, although he had to struggle to do so. Roger taught me the value of patience and how important it is not to judge others by how they look.
Roger lived a relatively long life. He died when he was 50, living longer than the experts predicted when they finally told my aunt why her younger son was not developing as quickly as his cousin only a few months younger than he.
When Glee first introduced the character of Becky, and then Sue’s sister – both of whom had Down Syndrome, I admit I held my breath. I did not trust that the show that celebrated those on the fringe would treat the characters with respect. I was wrong. An admission inspired by the Season 3 episode: Yes/No.
Like my cousin Roger, the character of Becky struggles to make others understand her. Speech impediment, a unique perspective, they add up to a failure to communicate at times. Then there are the reactions of others, who, with one glance, dismiss her…or at least underestimate her. People did that to Roger. I did that to Roger, until I learned to slow down and listen at his pace, not mine.
By choosing to have Dame Helen Mirren speak Becky’s inner dialogue, Glee brilliantly depicted the person within in a medium notorious for worshiping the external. Thank you, Glee. I will not doubt you again.