Eyes Different Than Mine
By 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.
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. There were sacrifices that were made throughout my childhood. There were opportunities missed out on 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 gave me the opportunity 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 simply 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 the ability we have 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 made up my mind 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.
As we work to make inclusive education more common practice 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 holds greater relevance and importance. Kids, whether siblings or peers, deserve to know their feelings on this unique journey are valid, and their experiences are not unlike those shared by other siblings and friends.
They deserve to know there is so much to look forward to on the road ahead. And they deserve to know their role is incredibly valuable. My hope is that 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.