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World Down Syndrome Day: Connecticut teens work to end the ‘R-word’

WOODBRIDGE -- Amity High School sophomore Saeed Karout is a big-time athlete who respects the competition, “Because it is nice, it is not nice when you are mean to other people.”

The unified athlete is easily earning admiration in the gym, “He is just great, he is always running around, I am in his gym class first period, everybody is still sleepy, sleep walking around the gym and he is just a ball of energy running around, always happy to be there,” says friend Jayson Hutchinson.

Karout says a culture of kindness is what makes his classmates special and Hutchinson says he would not have it any other way.

But Hutchinson knows his peers aren’t perfect and that the language inside the high school hallways can sometimes hurt when we talk about people with intellectual challenges. That’s why he and others are on a mission to eliminate the “R” word.

“What I wanted to do by supporting this campaign was make everyone feel like they are part of a group, and by using that word it really just puts everyone down. You don’t want to make anyone feel excluded or not part of the group,” says Hutchinson.

Physical education teacher Betsi Grace brought the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign to campus that has students signing pledges to get on board. “This school I have to say is incredible, it is absolutely incredible,” says Grace.

Grace has run the unified sports program at Amity for 16 years and says promoting inclusive language was a natural extension to making sure everyone had a spot on one of her teams.

“I rarely hear the “R” word, if I do it all. The student population here supports every unified program we have here,” says Grace.

Hutchinson knows that changing the way we think or talk can take time and young people are often the first to take the lead. He’s hopeful what’s happening at Amity will inspire others to think before they speak.

“Obviously it is a different time, and everyone has a right to their opinion, but you just have to take into account that this word really hurts them as athletes and it is derogatory in many ways,” says Hutchinson.

Learn more at  Down Syndrome Association of Connecticut

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