This wasn't a "Special Clothing For Special People" catalog. There wasn't a call out somewhere on the page proudly proclaiming that "Target's proud to feature a model with Down syndrome in this week's ad!" And they didn't even ask him to model a shirt with the phrase, "We Aren't All Angels" printed on the front.
In other words, they didn't make a big deal out of it. I like that.
A lot of other people seemed to like it too. When other parents of children with Down syndrome shared the story through social media, NBC News picked up on the story and contacted the young model, Ryan Langston.
Ryan is every bit a 6-year-old boy: riding his bike in the back yard, climbing the rock wall on his playground set, and using all sorts of trucks to dig up his mother's garden. He's a bundle of energy who had a very difficult start. Ryan was born with a hole in his heart and had open heart surgery when he was just 3 months old. That hurdle cleared, his parents began early intervention to help Ryan develop muscle tone and communication skills.
Fast forward a few years, and Ryan is a happy, engaged child. A cute kid with blonde hair and blue eyes, he has been modeling ever since he was 3 years old. The now famous Target ad shows Ryan posing next to four other children. He's the only child with Down syndrome, but he blends right in -- and Target didn't attempt to highlight his difference.
"The fact that they are not making a big deal - it's ironic," Ryan's father Jim said. "It's a big deal because they are not making a big deal about it."
The Background: Down syndrome is a genetic alteration that occurs when an individual has three, rather than two, copies of the 21st chromosome. The most common chromosomal condition, Down syndrome occurs in one out of every 733 babies born in the United States. A 2002 review of elective abortion rates found that 91-93% of pregnancies in the United Kingdom and Europe with a diagnosis of Down syndrome were terminated. An earlier study estimated the rates were between 87-98% in the U.S.
Why It Matters: As the decision to abort a child diagnosed with Down syndrome becomes more common, the public is less likely to encounter such children and realize that they can lead happy, fulfilling lives. As Allison Hassett Wohl wrote about her own child last year in the Washington Post, "My son's existence will help dispel society's prejudices that have kept people with intellectual disabilities out of our communities. Julian's life will defy the notion that the lives of the disabled are somehow less valuable, less meaningful and less important than typically developing peers. He will be an active and engaged member of our community. . . Right now, there is a limited window in which to educate both the public and the medical community on what it means to have a child with this condition." It's a small step, but young Ryan Langston and Target are doing their part to provide just such an education.
Related on TGC: Courtney Reissig, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made in a Fallen World
[Note: If you find a story our community should know about, please send the link to joe.carter *at* thegospelcoalition.org.]