One man's journey with Down syndrome shows how far we've come in 30 years.

Richard and Didi Dobbs didn't know much about Down syndrome when their nephew Sean was born with the condition in 1985.

The only thing they did know — and according to all of the information they could find on the condition — was that it was synonymous with "Mongolism." Which, as you can imagine, was less than reassuring.

"It was the '80s, and there was no Internet or anything," Didi told Upworthy. "I knew the very little that people in the '60s would know, which is that it was odd, or freaky, or scary."


Before the '80s, the average life expectancy for a person with Down syndrome was 28 years, and it was common for children born with the condition to be sent away and raised in institutions or group homes, segregated from educational opportunities and the public at large. In fact, up until 1984 — just a year before Sean was born — doctors were not legally required to give medically indicated treatment for life-threatening conditions to infants with disabilities.


Sean as a toddler. All GIFs via Richard Dobbs/Vimeo.

So the Dobbses tried to help their family, and others like them, the only way that they knew how: by turning the cameras on.

When Sean was 2 years old, they began to film his life with the ultimate goal of turning the footage into an informational video to help other families treading the then-uncharted waters of raising a child with Down syndrome. At the time, no such movies existed, at least not that they could find.

Over the years, they documented all the major milestones in Sean’s life. They filmed his speech and occupational therapy classes as he learned to walk and talk. When he took a liking to swimming, they brought their camera along to his high school swim meets. They followed him to the prom and to his high school graduation, when he became the first special needs student in the 2,000-person school to graduate on time.

Sean shaving before the prom.

Their archival footage was interesting to family and friends, but it wasn't really a story ... until they learned that Sean was going to compete in the National Special Olympics Triathlon in 2014.

Suddenly, the film that had been nearly 30 years in the making had a whole new shape as well as a name: "Sean So Far."

The Dobbses began to chronicle Sean's preparation alongside his triathlon partner, Troy — the only two athletes from Connecticut to compete in the national games that year. Their friendship would go on to become one of the lynchpins of the film.

Sean and Troy training together.

But the film took another unexpected turn when Sean was rushed into emergency spinal surgery six months before his big race.

During an obligatory physical, doctors discovered an atlantoaxial instability in Sean’s neck. This is a fairly common congenital complication in people with Down syndrome, although that doesn't make it any less serious.

Sean ended up missing eight weeks of training that winter while he recovered from the surgery. But as soon as the neck brace was gone and the doctors gave the word, he was right back at it, determined to get himself back into shape before the race.

Sean ended up taking home the bronze medal at the National Special Olympics that year, but his story didn't stop there.

Just two weeks after the race, Sean and Troy were invited to attend a black-tie dinner at the White House on behalf of the Special Olympics International Committee.

Sean was even given the opportunity to deliver a speech to President Barack Obama and his family. "His mouth had no muscle tone when he was a baby — we have footage of that — so this speech was a big deal!" Didi Dobbs said.

Sean meeting President Obama.

The Dobbses have seen a lot of changes in the 30 years that they've been working on "Sean So Far" — both in Sean himself and in the way the world looks at Down syndrome.

Didi recalled seeing a child with Down syndrome in a recent commercial for Target and noted how that kind of visibility goes a long way to normalizing the condition and building empathy for people with it. After all, that's how Sean has been able to do so many amazing things: by thinking that he could and having a family who supported that.

"Sean learned that everything is possible, not that he has limits," Didi said. "He knows he has Down syndrome, and he talks about it. Yes, it's a disability. But I heard someone refer to it as 'life in a different key.' And that's how I've come to see it."

Sean being interviewed about self-respect for the documentary.

As for Sean himself? He’s returned to his day job, enjoying some much-needed downtime.

2014 was a whirlwind of excitement, so he's taking some time to hang out with friends, go to the gym, and catch up on his favorite TV shows and hobbies.

You know, like people normally do.

Check out the trailer for "Sean So Far" below:


True

This year more than ever, many families are anticipating an empty dinner table. Shawn Kaplan lived this experience when his father passed away, leaving his mother who struggled to provide food for her two children. Shawn is now a dedicated volunteer and donor with Second Harvest Food Bank in Middle Tennessee and encourages everyone to give back this holiday season with Amazon.

Watch the full story:

Over one million people in Tennessee are at risk of hunger every day. And since the outbreak of COVID-19, Second Harvest has seen a 50% increase in need for their services. That's why Amazon is Delivering Smiles and giving back this holiday season by fulfilling hundreds of AmazonSmile Charity Lists, donating essential pantry and food items to help organizations like Second Harvest to feed those hit the hardest this year.

Visit AmazonSmile Charity Lists to donate directly to a local food bank or charity in your community, or simply shop smile.amazon.com and Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price of eligible products to your selected charity.

via Brittany Kinley / Facebook

Brittany Kinley, a mother from Mansfield, Texas, had a hilarious mom fail her and she's chalking it up to being just another crazy thing that happened in 2020.

When Kinley filled out the order form for her son Mason's kindergarten class pictures, there was an option to have his name engraved into the photos. But Kinley wasn't interested in having her son's name on the photos so she wrote "I DON'T WANT THIS" on the box.

Well, it appears as though she should have left the box blank because the computer or incredibly literal human that designed the photographs wrote "I DON'T WANT THIS" where mason's name should be.

Keep Reading Show less
True

A lot of people here are like family to me," Michelle says about Bread for the City — a community nonprofit located in Washington DC that provides local residents with food, clothing, health care, social advocacy, and legal services. And since the pandemic began, the need to support organizations like Bread for the City is greater than ever, which is why Amazon is Delivering Smiles to local charities across the country this holiday season.

Watch the full story:

Amazon is giving back by fulfilling hundreds of AmazonSmile Charity Lists, and donating essential pantry and food items to help organizations like Bread for the City provide to those disproportionately impacted this year.

Visit AmazonSmile Charity Lists to donate directly to a local charity in your community, or simply shop smile.amazon.com and Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price of eligible products to your charity of choice.
via Witty Buttons / Twitter

Back in 2017, when white supremacist Richard Spencer was socked in the face by someone wearing all black at Trump's inauguration, it launched an online debate, "Is it OK to punch a Nazi?"

The essential nature of the debate was whether it was acceptable for people to act violently towards someone with repugnant reviews, even if they were being peaceful. Some suggested people should confront them peacefully by engaging in a debate or at least make them feel uncomfortable being Nazi in public.

Keep Reading Show less
via UDOT / Facebook

In December 2018, The Utah Department of Transportation opened the largest wildlife overpass in the state, spanning 320 by 50 feet across all six lanes of Interstate 80.

Its construction was intended to make traveling through the I-80 corridor in Summit County safer for motorists and the local wildlife.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that there were over 100 animal incidents on the interstate since 2016, giving the stretch of highway the unfortunate nickname of "Slaughter Row."

Keep Reading Show less