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Everyone Belongs: Heather Avis Talks Inclusion This Back-to-School Season

As we send kids back to school this fall, Heather Avis joins the show to help us share kindness with all those we encounter. She is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Different – A Great Thing to Be! as well as the founder of The Lucky Few, a social awareness brand on a mission to make a more inclusive and loving world, with an emphasis on shifting the Down syndrome narrative. Her latest children’s book, also focused on these themes, is called “Everyone Belongs.”

Heather and her husband have three adopted children, two of whom have Down syndrome, and she explains how this journey inspired her to found The Lucky Few. “There’s this narrative around who [my daughter] was before I knew her, just around disability and Down syndrome in general, that disability equals bad. Let’s avoid this, let’s feel sorry for you because you’re going to parent a child with Down syndrome. Let’s feel sorry for people with disabilities. And this narrative almost made me not adopt her,” Heather says. She notes that many parents about to raise a child with Down syndrome have these feelings and the high abortion statistics following the diagnosis.

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Her outlook changed once she met her daughter 14 years ago. “She’s amazing as a human baby, but she’s also amazing because she has Down syndrome. There was something that made her uniquely her, because of that extra chromosome,” Heather says. “My experience became so different once I had an actual human in my life who had Down syndrome…she’s radically changed my life because she has Down syndrome, not in spite of it.”

Father Dave describes how often he encounters those with disabilities in the Church and says how in his experience, “they just do better at unconditional love than most of the rest of us, they just seem to be such incredibly loving and bright [people]…And just always really want to see the best in somebody.”

Heather adds, “There’s a lack of inhibition. They show up in a space unashamedly themselves, and then they see you for who you are. And they’re good with it.” 

They discuss the ways in which children interact with those different from them, and she notes that younger kids first “approach others with curiosity before judgment.” In Heather’s experience, that attitude changes around middle school. The goal in her books is to give parents a tool to help “foster the curiosity” in others and to have conversations at home about interacting with different people.

Father Dave recounts a listener named Leticia who struggles with kids bullying her autistic son in eighth grade, and asks Heather for advice for parents in that situation. “My heart just breaks for this mom and her child and what she’s going through. It’s visceral, and I’m living it every day in this season of life,” Heather says. 

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She advises Leticia to talk to her school administrators and “make a fuss,” but she can only control their home environment. “Have some peace that when your child comes home, they’re coming home to where they belong, and they feel loved and embraced as they are…we just have to believe that that’s going to be enough at the end of the day. That’s going to matter more.”