5 Writing Tips I Learned from my Daughter with Down Syndrome

Carol Tice

By Ruth Zive

My beautiful, funny, smart, chromosomally enhanced 14-year-old daughter has Down syndrome.  She is developmentally delayed in most parts of her life.

The diagnosis was a blow, all those years ago, but I’ve learned more from Julia than I ever imagined possible.  Those lessons could spawn countless blog posts, but today, I want to share the five essential writing tips I might have overlooked, had I not been blessed with my lovely daughter.

  • Keep it simple

Because Julia lacks the complexity that burdens most of us as we trudge through life, she embraces the obvious with simplicity and wonder. There is a gap between what she can understand and what she can express, so Julia has learned how to sum things up pretty succinctly, and I’ve learned from this approach.  In writing, a simple description like, “that bird is graceful,” (a little nugget she shared this morning) can pack more punch than a laundry list of adjectives that confuse the reader.

  • Keep it honest

Julia couldn’t lie if a gun was held to her head. She tells it like it is, and while I’m not accusing writers of lying, I do think that we often stretch truths and exaggerate to make a point.  That may be effective some of the time, but words can resonate more profoundly if we just keep it real.

  • Rely on your friends

Over the years, Julia has become aware of her shortcomings.  But she knows how to leverage the good intentions of her friends to her best advantage.  As writers, we should do the same.  We can’t be all things to all people.  Why not ask for feedback, solicit favors, lean on others who are more experienced and better connected?  I’ve learned that there are great resources in the writing community – and I shouldn’t be too proud to use them!

  • Work beyond your potential

When Julia was diagnosed, the doctors told me that she would possibly never walk or talk, she would likely be ill much of the time and she might always wear diapers.  In fact, Julia does triple digit addition, regularly posts on Justin Bieber’s Facebook fan page, and could teach you a thing or two about how to prepare the perfect scrambled egg.

Julia understands her areas of challenge, but she works hard to overcome. She chooses to believe that she can do it and she never gives up.

As writers, we are often defeatist in our work.  We focus on failures, and we become immobilized by fear.  While it’s important to acknowledge limitations, we should move past them, or we won’t realize our goals.

  • Don’t be shy

Julia is the friendliest, most outgoing person that I know.  And this has served her well.  Friendly, accessible people tend to go further in life.

As writers, we should be mindful of our peer group (especially in the blogosphere) and we shouldn’t be shy about befriending others.  Ours is an affable community, and we should capitalize on that spirit!  Tweet blog posts, ‘friend’ your favorite writers, add links and share your good experiences.  We can support each other and still advance our own careers.

Perhaps the most important lesson that I’ve learned from Julia is that difference should be embraced. It is an asset. What sets us aside from others defines us most profoundly.

So writers, find your voice, celebrate your quirks, herald your differences and get out there and write with gusto!  Julia will be proud.

Ruth Zive is a freelance writer, mom of five (plus pooch), wife, Ashtanga yoga devotee, designer handbag enthusiast, special needs advocate and vegetarian chocoholic.  


  1. Steve

    Nice post, especially the “Work beyond your potential” part.


    • Carol Tice

      That was my favorite, too. I think so many writers are afraid to stretch. I just took a 5-figure contract to do something I’d never done before, and it was a great experience.

      • Ilene

        I had a very loved brother with ‘ Down’s Syndrom’ who died almost 12 yars ago( because he was a very trusting innocent.) I would not be the person I am today hadn’t not been for him. He taught me so much! i MISS HIM VER MUCH
        I miss and love my brother Alan’s humor, affection, childlike honesty and innocence. I he was 50 y/o and a beautiful human being. He was a child of God, a gift to all who knew him, here to teach us all important life lessons. I’m a better human being for having him in my life a loving hin dearly.
        After almost 12 yearS I still kMss you very much my baby brother ALAN
        yOU’RE PERSONAL STORY MADE MY DAY! I’m notn alone with my love and affection!

    • Ruth - Freelance Writing Blog

      No doubt this has been the greatest lesson I’ve learned from my daughter. Watching her determination, particularly when trying to master things we take for granted, makes me doubly motivated to test my own limits as a freelance writer.

    • Nissa Annakindt

      I really enjoyed this blog post. I was looking for information on Down Syndrome as research for a novel I’m writing with a Down Syndrome character. You’ve showed me how much we can learn from people who are dealing with such challenges in their lives.

  2. Elizabeth

    Crazy great post Ruth. Right on the money on so many levels. Our next-door neighbor is a wonderful 23-yr woman with Downs who somehow bridges the gap between my children’s world and our adult world and teaches both groups some important lessons. Writers can learn so much by simply observing the everyday world around them!

  3. Mandy Harris

    Fabulous post, Ruth! Great example of finding the blessings in the devastating details of life. Your daughter is truly an inspiration. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Jackie Paulson

    Fabulous post and I am learning every day. I learned a lot with my daughter being ADHD as well.

    • Ruth - Freelance Writing Blog

      Hi Jackie. My personal bias is that our world is a much better, stronger, more compassionate place as a result of ‘difference’. We are so quick to snub any kind of setback or challenge, but in truth – it’s how we grow and learn, right?

  5. Jean Gogolin

    Thanks so much, Ruth. You’ve inspired me to write about what I learned living with a husband with Alzheimer’s Disease.

    • Ruth - Freelance Writing Blog

      Jean, that’s great! Please let me know when the post is done. I would love to read it!

  6. Shelley

    It is so true. I have a son with Down syndrome and he has taught me more than I ever imagined possible.

    • Ruth - Freelance Writing Blog

      Hi Shelley – so we’re in the same club!? We can speak about the lessons learned, the blessings experienced, but ultimately, only Mom’s can REALLY appreciate all of the gifts offered by people with Down syndrome.

  7. Vonnie

    What a beautiful and inspirational post. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Caroline McGraw / A Wish Come Clear

    Ruth, thank you for this simple-yet-strong post. I particularly appreciate the line, “…difference should be embraced. It is an asset.”
    My younger brother, Willie, has autism, and knowing him continues to transform my writing & my life.

    • Ruth - Freelance Writing Blog

      Hi Caroline. I’m always fascinated by the sibling perspective. I have four other children, and while they all claim that their lives have been enriched by Julia, it’s reassuring to hear that that has been your experience with your brother. I really do believe that our frame of reference as writers is absolutely enhanced and broadened through the lens of exceptionality and special needs.

  9. Vanessa Nix Anthony

    What a great piece Ruth! Your daughter is not only teaching you but her lessons are now inspiring all of us. Thank you for sharing.

    • Ruth - Freelance Writing Blog

      Hi Vanessa – I am smiling ear-to-ear after reading your comment! Thanks so much for that.

  10. Jodie M. Cordell

    Wow, Ruth! Reading that just made my day! Your post is so very inspiring…perhaps at just the perfect time. I’m very glad I stopped and read it. I believe that our children end up teaching us as much as we ever teach them and your Julia is obviously taking life by the horns and not letting go! We all could use a little more of that attitude in our lives. How is it that when we’re young, we’re fearless but then lose that somehow over time. I wish it could be put in a bottle!! I’ll take some, yes please!! I guess we’ll simply have to continue to get our fire-breathing skills from our children along with posts with lots of gusto like yours!! Thank you so much for sharing! <3

    • Carol Tice

      You know, when I started this blog, I thought it should all just be very practical how-to info. But the reaction to posts like these reminds me that people need inspiration and uplifting posts as well. Thanks to Ruth for contributing this one.

  11. Dahlia Valentine

    Ruth… I really like the message you gave here. My neighbor’s daughter has Down syndrome and even though she doesn’t talk, she hugs EVERYBODY in the building. It’s genuine, it’s friendly and it makes my day every single time I see her. Thank you for the inspiration.

    • Ruth - Freelance Writing Blog

      Ah yes….the Down syndrome hug. We know it well in our household. Fortunately, Julia does talk – a blue streak – and we have done our best to teach her that not EVERYONE needs (or wants) hugs. I’m always torn, because I wonder what the world would be like if everyone was a bit more inclined to embrace others (literally and figuratively) and yet, it is sometimes inappropriate for Julia to be hugging. Maybe there’s a blog post in there somewhere?!?!

  12. Randi

    What a beautiful post. I’m so glad I’m an email subscriber or I would have missed this gem. I’ve already shared the link to my friends on Facebook and I see that they are sharing it too. As people have already mentioned here, it is vital that a writer learn from her surroundings. What inspiring messages Ruth and Julia have shared with the world.

    • Ruth - Freelance Writing Blog

      Thanks Randi for sharing my post (and to Carol for allowing me to share it here on Make A Living Writing). As a writer, it’s so natural to share the things that inspire you, so this was a very organic post for me. Sometimes, when I’m at a loss, or the words aren’t flowing, or I’m frustrated with a client, I just spend some time watching Julia, and all of the bad energy just slips away. We all need to get out of our own heads sometimes and observe the world around us, restore some perspective, in order to stay motivated.

  13. Katlin

    Very inspiring post, Ruth. I just blogged about the passing of a neighbor who had cerebral palsy and major challenges. She did not let that stop her from being an amazing employee, community activist and grassroots philanthropist. She just died at age 60. At her memorial service, we learned about how many lives she had touched not only in the neighborhood but in the world. Keep inspiring us, Julia! The world is yours.

  14. Kim

    What a great post! I am a writer and I have a sister with Down’s so this post really spoke to me. I can particularly relate to the “don’t be shy” tip – shyness is something I have always struggled with, but it’s also something I work on all the time. I try to push myself outside my comfort zone as much as I can and it makes all the difference! Sometimes you just need to put yourself out there and say ‘screw it’ to what other ppl will, won’t or might think!

  15. James

    Love, love, love this post Carol.

    Especially the part about keeping it simple. I’ve been going through that the past couple of weeks. I sit in front of my computer at night wringing my hands and running my fingers through my hair trying to come up with the perfect new solution to get me more clients.

    Then I just remember what’s always worked for me in the past, and I hit the phone and my email and do some cold prospecting. And it works.

    It takes a lot of humility to strip off all the complexity from our lives, to rid ourselves of everything we’ve talked ourselves into because we think we’re just so smart, and just go back to the basics.

  16. James

    And, of course, when I said Carol, I meant to say Ruth….duh.

    I have too much Carol on the brain 😉

    Great post Ruth.

  17. BridgetJane

    What a beautiful post that not only applies to writers but to everyone who lives and breathes 🙂 Gorgeous! oxox

  18. John Soares

    Ruth, this is a beautiful post. I’ve only been around people with Down syndrome while I’m out and about, but I’ve noticed that most of them seem quite happy, far happier than most of the “normal” people I know.

  19. Gloria Attar RN

    What a lovely post. I’m very thankful for the close community of writers that I’ve long known. We’ve had each others’ backs for close to 12 years, and we welcome new energy into the fold. Just yesterday I shared new leads with two writers I’ve grown to respect. Now we’ll be working on a large project together. Friends become family and sharing the work seems to bring more to your door. At least that’s always been my experience.

  20. Tess The Bold Life

    This is simply beautiful and so are you and your daughter. Wow! Give her a hug from me today.

  21. Mary Jaksch

    What a heart-warming post, Ruth!

  22. Mala

    Your thoughts here are great Ruth! Your daughter is not only educating you but her lessons are now inspiring all of us. This is a good sign.


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