Advocate: ad·vo·cate noun \ˈad-və-kət, -ˌkāt\
1: one that pleads the cause of another; specifically : one that pleads the cause of another before a tribunal or judicial court
2: one that defends or maintains a cause or proposal
3: one that supports or promotes the interests of another
I have always considered myself to be a smart person. No, really. Breezed through all of my pre-collegiate education with excellent grades and plenty of teacher's pet years, graduated 24th out of 618 (yeah, it was a big high school!)... I did get my smug little bubble burst plenty of times in college, however, with my first experience with grades below a B (can we please forget the F I got in Calculus?), actually needing to study, being surrounded by a lot of people who were smarter than me... Eh, I still thought I was pretty smart. But when Samantha was born, I learned a whole new vocabulary, chock full of technical terms, acronyms and fightin' words. And there was one word I am embarrassed to say I honestly and absolutely did. not. know. A word I smiled and nodded knowingly through as the social worker in my hospital room used it, when my parent-to-parent contact on the phone in Sammi's 2nd week used it, when I read it on the internet.
Oh, sure, I'd certainly seen it before, as my father is a lawyer and his law texts littered our house when I was growing up. I didn't know, or even care to know what it meant. It just. wasn't. relevant. And I'd certainly never heard it used in any non-legal context before. Advocate. A word as powerful as a noun as it is a verb. A word full of color and meaning, possibilities and struggles, that rolls off my tongue today as easily as FAPE, IEP, atlanto-axial instability, AV canal, and FBA, to name but a few.
Something I was destined to do, something my daughter, Samantha, was born to do, all by virtue of her entrance into the world.
And her extra chromosome.
I have no doubt I'd advocate for my child regardless of genetic makeup - as a parent, it's our job to ensure that our children's needs are met, their voices heard. But adding a chromosome into the mix, adding a "disability," whatever it may be, gives new meaning to the word, as our children will have to fight that much harder to secure their rightful places in society. I will speak out for my daughter until my daughter can speak out for herself, and beyond. But even now, she speaks for herself, without the fancy acronyms, without the fancy words that denote an understanding of her needs or her struggles or the roadblocks that will be placed on the path to her rightful future - she speaks for herself, advocates for herself, just by Being. And I advocate right alongside her, adding fancy acronyms and fancy words, understanding her needs and her struggles and the roadblocks that will surely litter her path to greatness. And together, we, among hundreds of thousands of others, will work to change minds, open doors, raise awareness and abolish prejudice, injustice and stereotypes for all people with intellectual disabilities.
We can all be advocates.