Don’t tell Alison Piepmeier that you think she’s brave—she’ll try to tell you otherwise.
If you insist, she will tell you that she only appears to be brave due to the cultural stigmas that surround her daughter Maybelle’s condition. Maybelle has Down Syndrome.
Alison is no stranger to lending her voice to the issues others are reticent to approach. She’s known for her outspoken advocacy of women’s rights (she writes a column for Charleston City Paper and has contributed to the New York Times.) Talking about Maybelle and Down Syndrome is no exception. Here’s what she’d like you to know:
“She’s a child, first and foremost,” says Alison when describing Maybelle, and that extends to all children with Down Syndrome.
Alison would like you, and everyone else for that matter, to understand that Down Syndrome “is a condition, not an illness.” It’s an intellectual disability that manifests differently for each person. For Maybelle, it has made learning to talk, walk and communicate a longer, slower process, but she understands more than you might think.
For example, once, when Alison asked her daughter to brush her teeth, Maybelle didn’t jump up and do it immediately. She ignored her mother’s repeated requests. Alison initially thought it was because Maybelle didn’t understand, because she had Down Syndrome. It was not until a few days later when Alison witnessed another mother reprimand her daughter for ignoring a request that Alison realized Maybelle did understand. Like most kids, Maybelle just didn’t want to do what her mother told her to do.
“There’s this stereotype that kids with Down Syndrome are sweet, sweet angels, but that’s not true.” Alison isn’t saying that Maybelle doesn’t have her sweet, angelic moments. Just that she’s a kid and should be treated as such—and that includes having high expectations to meet.
As part of the College of Charleston’s Women’s and Gender Studies department, Alison is familiar with the concept of feminism, which makes her perfectly suited to be a mother to a child with special needs.
“Feminism is a movement to eradicate all forms of oppression that keep people from achieving their full humanity.” And that’s exactly her goal as Maybelle’s mother and as someone who advocates for those with Down Syndrome in her columns and as supporter of and teacher for the REACH program. She is also working with the Charleston County Superintendent to change how Down Syndrome individuals are educated in the classroom.
“The best practice is to include these kids,” says Alison. “Down Syndrome is a form of human difference, and diversity makes humanity better.”
Words by: Annabel Jones
Photography by: Mark Pelekakis