I have Down syndrome. Often, people like me are labeled as disabled, but truly, we are fully capable of making our own decisions and achieving our goals.
I am Sahil, a 24-year-old advocate for people with intellectual disabilities. I am from Lucknow, India. I was born into a family of doctors. So while my parents were terrified by the challenges ahead of us the day I was born, they also knew what had to be done to help me achieve my fullest potential. As a young child, my mother enrolled me in early intervention programs to help develop my cognitive, speech, and social skills. I’m blessed to have my family as my support system.
Growing up, my parents had a hard time finding any playschool with adequate services and facilities that would meet my needs and enable me to fit in. After a difficult and long hunt, they found a playschool called ‘Crayons’ located in Hauz Khas, New Delhi. I was the first child with special needs there.
My parents have been relentless in their pursuit for the right schools for me. In 2005, we relocated to Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, so that I could enrol in the Study Hall, an integrated school where students with and without disabilities study together. But despite their best efforts to guide me, I still struggled with my speech and fared poorly in my studies at the start. I was then moved to the school’s DOSTI program, for children with special needs.
Over the years, and with the guidance from my teachers and parents, my studies gradually improved. I wanted to challenge myself, to prove that I could do more than what the world thought of me. So against the advice of my teachers and parents, I decided to sit for the National Institute of Open Schooling Class 12 examinations. And guess what? I surprised everyone when I passed with flying colours, scoring an impressive aggregate of 83%. Everyone was stunned at my results. My achievement even earned me a feature in the local media. It was the first milestone that lifted my confidence.
Through my school, I was also introduced to Special Olympics Bharat which started me on sports. Over the years, I have participated and won medals in athletics, swimming, cricket, basketball, and softball. I’m a regular presence at all sports camps held at district, state and national levels. I have excelled in doing yoga as well. I have even represented India at international competitions, winning a silver medal in aquatics 50m freestyle at the 2013 Special Olympics Asia-Pacific Regional Games in Newcastle, Australia. Taking part in sports has not only improved my health and fitness, but these accomplishments have also been a huge confidence boost. I feel like I can achieve anything so long as I put my mind to it.
Beyond sports, the Special Olympics movement has also given me opportunities to grow and develop as a speaker. I am a youth leader with the movement, helping to promote inclusion via unified sports.
In 2020, I was invited to speak at a virtual conference organized by the United Nations on World Down Syndrome Day. I shared my story with a global audience to inspire the world that people with Down syndrome are not disabled, and must be treated as equals. Thanks to the unconditional support of my teachers, Special Olympics coaches, and parents, I have found my purpose and proven my potential.
People with disabilities are just like everyone else. We want equal opportunities to belong, and to achieve our dreams. I want to make my impact globally through my work. Until then I won’t stop my hustle. In life, things don’t get easier, you just get stronger.