Dad Creates Cartoon Series About His Down Syndrome Daughter To Break Down Stigma

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We award Fred Willis Sr, 59, from Stratford, Connecticut, the “father of the year” award! What an awesome and inspiring project he has created, all for his youngest daughter Jessica who is 15. Fred is a Psychiatric nurse by day, and parent to 5 children and husband by night.

He created a cartoon series called Just Jessica, which he adds to almost daily on his Facebook Page, after hearing Jessica express something very profound to him. Although she has down syndrome and her special needs condition means she often does things differently than other people, she still wants to be treated like everyone else.

“That’s really the message behind it. She’s just Jessica. She’s not ‘Jessica with Down syndrome.’ She’s just Jessica,” Fred told Today.com.

The thing is, Jessica IS just like most other kids her age. The Stratford High School student loves music, cooking, camping art, and can regularly be found glued to her iPhone. While Jessica and her family know there are some aspects of her life which many be different, its the notion that she is still loved and valued in the same that is most important and what the Just Jessica series brings across in its message.

“That’s a difficult thing for many people with special needs to overcome — that sense that they’re different. All of us want to be considered part of the group. It’s important for Jessica to be, in her words, popular, and to be treated like everybody else,” said Fred.

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The majority of the cartoon scenarios are based on real life events such as Jessica going to school, spending time with her family and participating in sporting activities. Jessica’s parents are able to use her dad’s artwork as a way of opening up important discussions about her disability in a way that she can understand.

“We use it now as a tool to help her in high school, as she’s learning life skills. That opens it up to talk about learning how to do things, and how it’s not easy for her, but she can do it just like everybody else,” said father of the year Fred.

One of the other great reasons for creating the series, and why we as a media platform believe it is important to share, is that anyone can read this, regardless of whether they personally know someone with down syndrome or not, and learn about special needs children and adults in more positive light.

“The vision that people have of people like Jessica, and Down syndrome in particular, is that they see something they need to help, someone they need to do something for. I think things are changing, but we want people to engage special-needs people all the time, and not just once a year when it’s time to volunteer at the Special Olympics,” he said.

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It’s such a simple, yet powerful message to share. Being someone with special needs does not mean there is anything wrong with. You are just different and deserve to be treated with just as much love, respect and equality as everyone else. The thing is, everyone in this world is different, unique, quirky, flawed and special. We need to train ourselves to stop trying to conform to standards perpetuated by the media, entertainment, advertising etc.

The more we celebrate and accept each other for the way we are, the less stigma there will be not just in relation to people with down syndrome, but anyone perceived as “outside the norm” of what society sees.

And Fred is right, we should not just be paying attention to people with special needs at a sporting event like the Special Olympics, we have a duty as a society to learn more about down syndrome in a way that makes us better allies.

Not too long ago we shared a beautiful photo series by Florida mom Natalie McCain called ‘Defined by Our Hearts’ where she captured a group of moms with their special needs children in order to show society that we should not judge by outward appearances or any level of physical ability, but treat each other with kindness, love and respect no matter what.

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And that is what we hope all our readers do, while becoming more knowledgeable about people with special needs.

For now, we have awesome dads like Fred Willis and his Just Jessica cartoon series (as well as MANY other advocates and activists in the world working to break down stigma around special needs) which brings a smile to one particular girl with down syndrome every morning, when he prints out a new image drawn on an iPad app and posts it on the fridge for Jessica to wake up to.

“Every morning, it’s the first thing she looks for. She loves them.  She is the apple of our eyes. Everyone who meets her walks away being better for it because she’s terrific,” he said.

You can see more of the Just Jessica daily cartoon images by joining their Facebook Group and joining the discussion. Here are some more of our favorite images below:

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One Comment

  1. I thoroughly enjoy this cartoon. Does dad do all the drawings himself? What a gifted man. Thank you for the smiles.

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