When I walked through the doors of a Special Olympics gym to start volunteering in October of 2013, I had no idea what kind of impact it would have on my life.
Since then, I have been a consistent volunteer with Special Olympics Ontario and I have also volunteered with the Durham Down Syndrome Association since March of 2018. Working with this community has significantly changed my life for the better. I have learned so much from the Down Syndrome community and working with said community has given me the opportunity to improve the abilities and transferable skills that help in my current roles as an educator, psychotherapist and author.
In 2022, I was able to successfully publish two children’s books for students to understand what Down Syndrome is and what World Down Syndrome Day is. This is a topic that I am so passionate about. I think it is essential that we teach our children to create a more equitable and inclusive environment that accepts children with special needs.
My first book, What is Down Syndrome? For Kids! addresses information that many children do not know about Down Syndrome. Being able to use this as a teaching tool to help children understand what Down Syndrome is can be very helpful for building inclusive environments. My second book, What is World Down Syndrome Day? For Kids! focuses more on the March 21st celebration of World Down Syndrome Day. Written in student-friendly language, I focused on topics that children need to know to create a more inclusive environment for our children with Down Syndrome. While these books focus on the Grades 3-8 age group, older students can certainly learn from these books, as well.
I have been given such a gift to be able to work with and learn from students with Down Syndrome that I felt compelled to write about these topics. For many teachers and parents, access to this type of information is quite limited. It is up to us, as professionals, to ensure that all of our students are represented in the literature that we present to students. My hope is that students can learn from these books to create a more equitable, inclusive and accepting environment for our children with Down Syndrome and other special needs. I am so privileged to have been given the opportunity to work on this project and I have made a lifelong commitment to helping individuals and families with Down Syndrome.
World Down Syndrome Day is all about spreading awareness for the wonderful things that people with Down Syndrome can and have accomplished. It is also about moving towards a more inclusive environment for people with Down Syndrome and celebrating this community. Ensuring that everyone has reading materials available to them that reflects the diversity of our society is essential in education and in life.
– Justin Heenan, MA, OCT, RP, is a teacher, psychotherapist, philanthropist and author who graduated from Yorkville University’s Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology program in 2020. He was named Special Olympics Ontario’s Educator of the Year in 2021. Learn more about Justin at www.justinheenan.com