Sunday, May 25, 2008

At Home with Down syndrome

This is part of an essay on Down syndrome that appears in the Spring 2008 issue of The New Atlantis.

In storage at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is the secret to what one professor calls “the first Down Syndrome Association in the history of the world.” In 1982, Dr. Brian Stratford, a specialist in developmental disabilities at the University of Nottingham, suggested in the journal Maternal and Child Health that the Italian Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna used a little boy with Down syndrome as the model for his Christ child. Stratford made a “clear characteristic diagnosis” of the baby based on his distinctive facial features and the shape of his hands and toes. The Gonzaga family of Mantua, Mantegna’s sponsor, had a boy with an unidentified “sickness,” she said, and one of the artist’s own fourteen children shared this condition—a not insignificant factor in Ludovico Gonzaga’s choice of Andrea Mantegna as his court painter. Gonzaga and Mantegna appreciated the humanity of these children whom some might have preferred to hide away or let die, and that shared sensitivity gave them a “sense of purpose” with respect to disability which Stratford regrets has been all but forgotten by our society: “Perhaps Mantegna saw in this child something beyond the deficiencies which now so occupy our attention and perhaps then, the qualities of love, forgiveness, gentleness, and innocence were more readily recognized. Maybe Mantegna saw these qualities as more representative of Christ than others we now regard so highly.”

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” another proud big brother asks in Gifts, “if every family had a kid with Down syndrome?”
That question, of course, does not express the wish that more children would struggle with disabilities, but rather that more families might find within themselves the means to understand, and to transmit to future generations, the profound truth that every life is filled with meaning, and every child is a source of joy.


Grandma Bethany said...

A very touching story. Our special little Morgan certainly brings joy to our family and blesses so many lives.

Scarehaircare said...

Lauren ahs been asking for Morgan daily now. She misses her BFF.

Great story, hopeyou don't mind if I copy it onto my blog. xoxo

Amy H. Ellis said...

What an eloquent article. Thanks for sharing!

Staci said...

Wow. That's pretty cool. Thanks.