I Live With Peter Pan by Missy Vaughn
A softcover book aimed at children, the author, who has a young son with Down syndrome, explains that she was inspired to write this book when faced with explaining Down syndrome to her own children. She apparently hit upon the Peter Pan comparison – a boy who never wanted to grow up.
While I can see the appeal of this simple book that conveys a family’s love for their child who has Down syndrome, I have several problems with the angle the author takes. The main problem I have is the fact that explaining Down syndrome in terms of “never growing up” perpetuates a stereotype that so many of we parents of children with Down syndrome have tried to eliminate. Portraying them as forever infantile or childlike only does a huge disservice. People with Down syndrome do, in fact, grow up, and given the opportunities, can accomplish more than most people realize, and it’s up to us, the families of individuals with Down syndrome, to raise awareness of this fact, not promulgate old misconceptions.
The book also focuses very much on the child’s differences and goofy behavior. While it’s true that differences should be celebrated and kids indulge in goofy behavior, Down syndrome or not, I don’t think that focusing on what sets a child with Down syndrome apart does anything to promote acceptance, tolerance or an attitude of inclusion.
Finally, while this is probably a minor thing, it bugged me that throughout the book, the author uses “Down Syndrome” instead of the proper “Down syndrome” (syndrome should not be capitalized). This is probably an example of poor editing which seems to be part and parcel of self-publishing.
The author’s goal with this book is to provide a tool for parents to explain Down syndrome to their kids in a non-scary, non-threatening way. I think what the author accomplishes, instead, is portraying Down syndrome as a cartoonish stereotype, without any true explanation of Down syndrome at all. Being the mother myself to a child with Down syndrome as well as five older kids, I never felt that I had to sugar coat my explanation of Down syndrome. Kids appreciate frankness and honesty – it’s perfectly okay to tell kids that Down syndrome is a genetic condition that gives a person certain physical characteristics, that it might take them a little longer to learn things, but that they are whole people who do grow up and accomplish some pretty awesome things.
Interestingly, my teenage son read this book and pointed out to me that in Hook, the sequel to Peter Pan, Peter Pan actually did grow up – it just took him a little longer.
This is not a book I would choose to share with my children.