My best friend has Down’s syndrome — and she likes shopping, gossiping and drinking cocktails as much as anyone else

The Sun 5 days ago

AMBER McLeod, 25, is a support worker and lives in Birmingham with her parents Traci, 57, and Barry, 66.

“Standing at the bar, my best friend Claire and I clinked our glasses of prosecco. We were on a girls’ day out and had come to a bar for a bottle of fizz.

“As Claire chatted away about her college course, I noticed the blatant stares from some of the other people in the bar, who were looking at us with confusion and disapproval. I knew instantly why.

“Sadly, I’ve faced these stares since Claire and I first met in late 2015. She has Down’s syndrome and a lot of people assume I’m her carer, unable to comprehend that we are actually best friends.

“Claire and I giggle that they must think I’m the world’s worst carer as we sip our drinks, but it also really frustrates me that they can’t see we’re just friends.

“We met at Solihull College in November 2015. I was doing social studies and she was studying a healthy lifestyle course to help her become more independent.

“I spotted Claire one day in the canteen, holding court at a table filled with other people with learning disabilities.

“There was something so vivacious about her – she had this amazing energy – and I wanted to get to know her.

“We got chatting and I knew I’d met someone very special. She was funny, sassy, and the conversation flowed. It was just like talking to any other 20-something.

“Soon we started hanging out together outside of college, going shopping and gossiping over cocktails.

“After a lifetime of people treating her like a child, I wanted Claire to feel like my equal, so I do the same things with her as I do with my other friends, and they often join us.

“In 2016, I went to the University of Warwick, and I graduated this year, while Claire is studying full-time at college, but we’re still as close as ever.

“Our favourite spot to meet up is an Italian restaurant in Selfridges. We joke we’re like the Sex And The City girls as we sip flirtinis.

“Over the years, I’ve got to know Claire’s mum Sue, and she loves the fact Claire is experiencing a grown-up friendship.

“She understands that I don’t want to ‘help’ Claire, and I certainly don’t feel sorry for her. I just love spending time with her, dancing around the living room or getting our make-up done.

“My boyfriend Steven, 26, is living abroad at the moment, but he’s met Claire and they got on really well. I’d love to get married one day and Claire will be my bridesmaid.

“As well as having my own children I plan to adopt a child with Down’s syndrome. Claire isn’t planning to have children, although she would be open to getting married in the future, but it doesn’t matter if our lives go in different directions as I know we’ll always remain friends.

“Another assumption we get is that our friendship must be a one-way street and that Claire can’t support me. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

“When my aunt died last year, I was devastated and the first person I turned to was Claire. She’s one of life’s ‘glass half full’ people and has an amazing ability to comfort people.

“In the same way, I support her when her various health conditions mean she has to be hospitalised, and when her dad passed away in 2016 I was there for her even though we hadn’t been friends that long. We lean on each other and we’ve never once fallen out.

“When strangers talk down to her in a baby voice, I see her bristle and although she’s polite, I know it annoys her – it certainly drives me mad.

“I don’t say anything because it’s not my place to speak for her, but those are the moments I want to shield her from prejudice. If only those people knew the fun and joy she’s brought me.”

Claire Dutton, 32, is a student and lives in Solihull with her mum Sue.

She says: “When we’re not doing face masks or going out for meals, Amber and I speak on the phone and WhatsApp constantly. We laugh a lot and she treats me like an equal, which means so much.

“Sadly, there are still misconceptions that people with Down’s syndrome can’t have proper friends, but Amber sees past my condition to the person I am. I hope I’m as good a friend to her as she is to me.”

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