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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:


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After showing off her sparkling personality during the pre-performance interview, Mariandrea danced to a cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World," personifying the song in her performance. But it wasn't just her intentional movement that reflected the emotional complexity of the ever-popular hit. Her facial expressions, ranging from subtle fear to a clown-like smile to genuine sorrow to angry defiance, change on a dime, adding an acting element to her routine that takes it to the next level.

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@stillateacher/TikTok

Are AP kids as insufferable as they seem? Not according to Ms. C.

Think back to all those centuries ago (kidding), when you were but a wee teen in high school. Suddenly identity exploration and finding a sense of belonging become paramount. In those pivotal years, you meet other like-minded individuals with similar tastes and interests, and those people become your exclusive group of friends, otherwise known as a clique.

High school might look very different now than how it once did, but this rite of passage is still very much alive and well. Just ask Ms. C, who goes by the handle @stillateacher on TikTok.

Ms. C recently went viral for sharing a look at high school cliques from her perspective as a teacher, honing in on what she liked about teaching each clique. Her observations illuminate not only that yes, cliques persist (and with them their inherent problems) but that there’s something genuine, sweet and loveable about each one.

First on deck—the goth kids, primarily because Ms. C admits to being scared of them when she was a kid. But now, after actually connecting with a few, she insists that underneath those dark and gloomy exteriors lies genuine kindness.

“A common interaction between me and a goth kid is throughout class, they're just kind of like giving me a death glare…And then after class, they just like linger around by my desk and I'm like, ‘Hey, what's up?’ And they'll just like lightly knock over something on my desk and be like, ‘You're a really good teacher. This is my favorite class.’ and then just walk out,” she says in the clip.

So yeah, goth kids are just like cats. Misunderstood in the way they show love.

@stillateacher Something loveable about every clique #teacher #teachersoftiktok #teachertok #highschool #clique ♬ original sound - Ms. C

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Ms. C tackles theater kids next. Sure, this group has a big personality (perhaps too big for some), but Ms. C appreciates their brazen self-assurance.

“They reeeeealllly don’t care what anyone thinks,” she says, explaining that while other students add well-known pop singers to her class playlist, theater kids will shamelessly put in their favorite show tunes. Why? Because it’s “the best musical of all time!” Duh.

Plus, Ms. C commends their “really strong literacy skills from reading and memorizing all of these plays.”

For jocks, there are actually sub-cliques within the group “depending on which sport you play.” But despite each sport team having different personalities, Ms. C notes that a supportive coach makes all the difference.

“I've literally before picked up my phone and called the coach and then like be like, ‘So and so is having a tough day,’ and they come and talk to them in the hallway and the student is like immediately changed, inspired, transformed,” she says.

And while she admits that the teacher/jock relationship is often portrayed as contentious, she can’t help but commend jocks for their passion and commitment.

“A lot of the kids are just like die-hard for whatever sport they play. That keeps them coming to school consistently. It keeps them having something to do,” she says.

After her initial post received over 800,000 views, Ms. C began reviewing even more cliques. Like band kids, who are “clever,” “sarcastic," fond of outdated memes and generally “lead a fun, joyful existence.”

@stillateacher Replying to @juan pablo Suarez band kids get a 5 star review #teacher #teachersoftiktok #teachertok #highschool #clique ♬ original sound - Ms. C

Or art kids, who are “self-deprecating” but “brilliant” and “generous” and “unproblematic royalty” overall.

@stillateacher Replying to @Escape_My_Reality ♬ original sound - Ms. C

Ms. C has even advocated for the AP overachievers, who are often labeled as insufferable in their eagerness.

@stillateacher Replying to @520momo_mama I will defend overachievers to the death #teacher #teachersoftiktok #teachertok #highschool #clique ♬ original sound - Ms. C

“You all have an edge and an intensity that you can leverage to lead truly extraordinary lives,” says, before joking that they’ll “also need a lot of therapy, so many blessings to you on that journey, and the earlier you start the better.”

Requests for more clique reviews are still rolling in, asking Ms. C to cover the skater punks, the nerds, the speech and debate team, cheerleaders and dancers, …and a lot of folks have suggested choir kids. So be sure to follow Ms. C for more wholesome entertainment.

High school cliques might evolve with the different generations, but one thing that will never change is that they each have something unique to offer.


This article originally appeared on 9.18.23

Courtesy of Woodell Productions

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