Kristen Rumphol was at the public pool with her son when she noticed none of the other kids wanted to engage with him. Her 11-year-old son, Brandon, has Down syndrome and would enthusiastically go up to other kids only to be ignored.
"He is still categorized as nonverbal and he is hard to understand but he was trying his best! Every single time, the kids would either look at him weird and say nothing or just swim away. Brandon would look back at me with a look of disappointment. Not understanding why the kids were being mean to him," writes Rumphol.
The Illinois mom was heartbroken and decided to write an open letter on Facebook for the first time. Her message to all parents? Educate your children.
"Tell your children that children with special needs want the same thing they do—they want to be accepted," she pleads. "They want to be included and treated just like every other 'normal' child. They want friends that won't judge them and will just accept them as they are."
If you're not sure how to best explain Down syndrome, Rumphol suggests telling kids it's a partial or extra copy of chromosome 21.
Most people have 23 pairs of chromosomes that make up who we are. Half come from one parent and the other half from another. But some people have an extra chromosome, usually with number 21 having three chromosomes instead of two. This extra chromosome can give some different gifts or characteristics. The Women's and Children's Health Network and The Nemours Foundation has some great and adaptable explanations for kids.
"Every person with Down syndrome will learn to do the same thing as everyone else. It just takes them longer to get there. They will need more help to there. But they WILL get there!" Rumphol writes.
Since she posted the letter more than a week ago, it has been shared over 14,000 times. Brandon has also received thousands of supportive messages and care packages.
The post has made a discernible difference. Rumphol notes that in the family's recent trips to the pool, kids have been friendlier to Brandon.
"Kids have started coming up to Brandon and greeting him by name, so parents must be talking to their kids about it," she tells CBS 2.
We won't be surprised if Rumphol's passionate words are making a difference for many other kids with special needs, too.