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Eyes Different Than Mine

My younger brother has Down syndrome. He has inspired so many of my life's decisions, including my career path of special education, my heart for the work of inclusion and disability advocacy, and, most recently, the writing and publication of my first book. Growing up alongside my brother still is one of my life's greatest joys. He is my closest friend and the best uncle I could have ever dreamed up for my children. He is an incredible reflection of the Lord's goodness and love.

Growing up with a brother with a disability wasn't always easy. Some sacrifices were made throughout my childhood. There were missed opportunities and time that had to be shared with my parents. But I wouldn't trade any of it because what I gained from my brother was a best friend. He allowed me to explore my gifts as I learned more about myself through being his sister. His presence in my life also offered me a new perspective -- a perspective that encouraged a slower pace, a more joy-filled view of the simple things, and a heart that could celebrate differences and see others through a lens of compassion.

While I certainly served as his protector and teacher in many ways while we grew up, he reciprocated those roles for me, too. He became a brother I could goof around with, and he also became the first person I would run to when I needed a hug. As I got older and trips away from home became more frequent, he was always my hardest goodbye and my easiest hello. We have had a strong connection since the day I met him, and our ability to "get each other" has remained deep ever since. I am so thankful for him and for our relationship, so much so that I wrote our childhood story in a book titled Eyes Different Than Mine.

As a kid, I remember looking to the bookshelf to learn about Down syndrome and feel connected to others, walking through a similar experience of having a sibling with a disability. But on all the kids' bookshelves where I looked, there was nothing available. I decided that one day I would write a book specific to the age and experience of siblings growing up with an individual with a disability. I wanted other young siblings to have words and illustrations where they could see themselves and a reflection of their journey. 

I wanted other young siblings to have words and illustrations where they could see themselves and a reflection of their journey.

As we work to make inclusive education more common in our schools, the importance of all children having a book where they can see themselves learning and growing alongside a classmate with a disability becomes more relevant and essential. Kids, whether siblings or peers, deserve to know that their feelings on this unique journey are valid and that their experiences are not unlike those shared by siblings and friends.

They deserve to know there is so much to look forward to on the road ahead. And they deserve to know that their role is incredibly valuable. My children's book can offer this perspective and be a lens through which all people can glimpse what it is like to grow up with a sibling with Down syndrome.

You can purchase Erin’s book, “Eyes Different than Mine,” for your family or for your classroom library here.

Erin Johnson

Erin Johnson is an ESS teacher at Holland Christian School, a member school with All Belong for many years. She works at Rose Park Christian Elementary and facilitates Unified Sports for elementary and middle school students.