A mum's powerful open letter to the parent of a child who excluded her son from their birthday party has gone viral.
When Jennifer Kiss-Engels of Langley, B.C., discovered that her eight-year-old son Sawyer, who has Down syndrome, was the only child in his class of 23 not invited to an upcoming birthday party, she felt hurt and upset for her little boy.
The mother-of-three took to Facebook, penning a heartfelt letter "to the parent that thought it was OK to invite the entire class to the child's birthday except for my son."
Of her decision to share her story, Kiss-Engele wrote that she felt it was a valuable lesson - and that she is trying to educate and advocate more.
"The only reason why you decided it was OK to not invite my son to your child's birthday party is because he has Down syndrome," she writes.
"I know it's not because he's mean, you couldn't meet a happier child. I know it's not because he's not fun, he has a great sense of humour and an infectious laugh."
And yet, in a powerful, compassionate admission, the mum continued: "I am not mad at you."
Kiss-Engele acknowledged that before she had her son, she too was "scared uncertain and misinformed about Down syndrome,"
"You see, having Down syndrome doesn't mean that you don't want to have friends," she writes. "It doesn't mean that you don't have feelings. It doesn't mean you don't like to go to birthday parties."
In actual fact, Kiss-Engele noted, people with Down syndrome "want the same things you and I want."
"Maybe you are struggling with the words to say to your child because your child did not want my son at their birthday party," she writes. "Maybe you let your child decide that it was OK to single someone out. I know it can be difficult to teach our children about something we may not understand ourselves."
Kiss-Engele described that it presented an opportunity, for the parent, to teach their child an important life lesson: "They will remember the time that their parent said to them, it's not OK to leave someone out because of their disability, race, or gender," she said.
Kiss-Engele also expressed her regret that she hadn't taken a more active role in educating Sawyer's class about Down syndrome this year.
"Other parents I know that have children with Down syndrome have often started the school year by educating the class and I haven't done that," she said, noting that, "He's always just been Sawyer to me."
"I realise now that I have let him down," she posted.
Kiss-Engele invited the parent to talk further, saying, "I may be a mama bear but I am not a scary person."
"I think we both could have done better," she writes.
In an update to her post, Kiss-Engele wrote that the story had a "happy ending," explaining that the parent had read her letter and spoken to their child about Sawyer. The child had since created a special birthday invitation for her son.
"Of course he's been beaming ever since and can't stop talking about it," Kiss-Engele writes.
The mum-of-three also expressed her pride that the letter had reached so many others, highlighting that sadly, it's an experience many families go through.
"There are so many kids with special needs (and without of course) that just don't make the cut," she wrote.
"I hope that parents who read this will help open that dialogue with their own child," she says, "and perhaps make that one "extra" invitation.
Kiss-Engele's post has attracted over 1,400 comments, many praising the mum for her advocacy and courage, others sharing their own stories.
"Thank you for being strong enough to do this!" Wrote one commenter. "It's hard enough being a parent of a special needs child…Sometimes you feel like you are all alone in these situations but then you hear all these stories and it makes you feel included."
"What a beautiful boy," wrote another. "Thank you for teaching us about compassion."
Read the post in full below.