Emily Kingsley and son Jason Kingsley are prominently featured in Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree, recognized by The New York Times as one of the 10 Best Books of 2012, and in the film of the same name. Far from the Tree explores family relationships when a child is significantly different from parents. Jason has Down syndrome. Emily is an Emmy Award winning writer, who was recognized by the U.S. government for her longtime work to include individuals with disabilities on Sesame Street.
Q: Jason opens the movie version of Far from the Tree with a quote from Shakespeare’s As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…” It’s an immediate assault on stereotypes. Tell us a little about how he has challenged limiting labels.
A: When Jason was born 44 years ago, the doctor told us that he’d never recognize us, walk or speak. We were advised to immediately place him in an institution so that I wouldn’t bond with him and to tell everyone that he hadn’t survived childbirth. My husband Charles and I ignored that advice and proceeded to immerse Jason in as many stimulating experiences as possible. He was reading at 3. At 7, he could count in 12 languages. He was a regular guest on Sesame Street. As a family, we spread the word that children with Down syndrome should not be “written off.” When Jason was 19, he and another young man with Down syndrome, published Count Us In, which excerpts their conversations with each other, family and friends.
Q: Over the years, though, your message to parents changed. Why was that?
A: As the years went by, it became obvious that, while parents were initially inspired by Jason’s accomplishments, they became frustrated—and even resentful—if their own children couldn’t replicate his progress. So I began stressing that Jason shouldn’t be used as a yardstick. I wanted the message to be that these kids should be given every opportunity to learn as much as they can, whatever that may be. And that if a child is living up to their personal potential, parents should be grateful and proud.
(To read the full interview, please visit Special Needs Alliance.)