Human Interest

Viral videos show sweet relationship between man with Down syndrome and his family

A woman is going viral on TikTok for the videos she shares of her brother with Down syndrome, who is a doting uncle to her children.

Erin Johnson, who has an account called “ErinAdvocates,” shares videos of her brother, Matt, who she said is a surprisingly good uncle. She had expected him to be the person her kids could have fun with, but instead, he’s become more… a great, loving caretaker.

“I let my brother care for my baby since she was a newborn to now,” she told Good Morning America. “To see him so soft, so gentle so warm and affectionate toward the kids just kind of caught all of us by surprise.”

She also said he is able to connect with them on a deeply emotional level — particularly because he knows how it feels to struggle to communicate his own thoughts and feelings.

“I always knew that he was hugely empathetic but seeing the way he reads the kids so well,” she said. “And he is just so in tune with his own emotions and understands that maybe kids can’t communicate their needs and frustrations as much. He is familiar with what that feels like. So he empathizes with them to a really strong level.”

@erinadvocates over here taking so many notes ✍🏼 #downsyndrome #protectiveuncle #unclelove #wholesome #safetyfirst #theluckyfew #toddlersoftiktok #purelove #mybrother ♬ In The Forest (Acoustic Indie No Copyright) – Instrumental – Lesfm & Olexy

Many people with Down syndrome struggle with communication, especially on an expressive level. While their receptive language — the words and concepts a person understands — is typically functioning well, their expressive language ( the words and concepts they can convey to others) is more difficult. Essentially, this means many people with Down syndrome can understand more than they can communicate, which can be frustrating. And this is likely why Matt is able to empathize with children who struggle to communicate what they are thinking and feeling.

One video, of Matt showing his niece the inside of his refrigerator, captured a lot of hearts, which Johnson spoke to Newsweek about. “In these video clips, my brother was spending time with his niece and showing her around his ‘man cave,’ and made the mistake of showing her his fridge because she was immediately interested in going through it!” she said. “Matt doesn’t usually like people going through his stuff, but he was very patient with his niece and let her explore the whole fridge. Then he redirected her to a water bottle that he knew she was allowed to drink from, and that he knew he would be OK to part with. It was lovely.”

Johnson also wrote a book, titled “Eyes Different Than Mine,” about growing up with a brother who has Down syndrome, saying they grew up to be best friends. Today, Johnson works as a special education teacher, and says that she and Matt continue to be best friends.

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