Christian Royal has a gift.  His pottery is beautiful and functional.  It has the hallmark of true artistry, a unique look that expresses what he wants to say about the world around him, his Charleston, SC home.   His passion and attention to detail is obvious in his work which is currently being sold in seven stores near his home and will soon be available on-line.  Christian’s story is one of an artist who is experiencing recognition, respect, and the beginning of a profitable career as a craftsman.  It’s a story that many artists, young and old, would envy: the ability to recognize your gift and use it to create art that people enjoy and want to buy, collect, and share.  Like everyone else, there is more to Christian’s story than what he does for a living.  There’s the story of his family, his geographic location, his hobbies, friends, and life experiences.   There’s also the fact that he happens to have Down syndrome.

I had the opportunity to speak to Christian’s mother, Helen Royal, recently.  We immediately bonded over shared experiences.  Talking to her was like talking to a friend I’ve know for years.  Helen identifies as a “storyteller” for good reason.  For one, she’s an excellent communicator and has a brilliant sense of humor.   Most importantly though, is that Helen has a compelling story to tell.  She hopes that by sharing her story about helping her son find his passion she’ll inspire the rest of us to keep looking and not give up, no matter what the “professionals” tell us.  


Christian spent many of his school years labeled as “trainable.”  It’s a word I’m more than familiar with.  It still sends shivers up my spine to hear it used in reference to any child.   In the context of special education, it basically means (to untrained parents at least) that the child is beyond hope of learning to read, write, or do arithmetic.  A wonderful documentary film about Christian’s work “In The Potter’s Hands,” was produced by Joni and Friends, and it won a Telly Award for excellence in broadcast and web media in 2012.  In the film, Helen describes how the “trainable” label and limited educational options prompted her and her husband, Mike, to remove Christian from public schools and attempt homeschooling.  Their decision was not made lightly or without trepidation.  It proved to be a turning point in Christian’s story. 

While looking for ways for Christian to have a balanced experience with homeschool, Helen sought the advice of a trusted friend.  The friend suggested pottery, and the rest, as they say “is history.”  Christian’s interest and passion was recognized by his teacher and family right away.  Since the Royals were not experienced potters themselves, developing Christian’s interest and skill meant yet another learning curve for his parents.  Unlike the endless cycle of new topics that we as parents of children who have special needs are forced to learn and become fluent in (diagnoses, labels, therapies, education rules, benefit and legal options, etc.), this was something fun!  Through a combination of dedicated support and the uncanny luck of finding and cultivating the right relationships, the Royals followed their son.  They made the road available to him, and now he leads them where his creativity wants to go.  It’s a truly remarkable tale of family, support, love, and faith in every person’s ability to make a difference in the world.


The benefits of Christian’s pottery are not just limited to the aesthetic appeal of his work.  Christian now has a meaningful purpose in his life which has given him a new self-confidence and desire to communicate with others.  As Helen points out, it’s a beautiful thing to discover your “niche” in life and in your community.  Christian continues to grow and learn, even as a young adult.  He’s recently even started sight recognition of letters and word sounds.  (Contrary to what we were told when our children were young, Christian has not yet reached the “plateau” of academic learning.)  Opportunity and support continue to make a difference in his life. With his parent’s help, Christian is teaching us so many things about life, the power of dedicated support, and never underestimating human potential.

As Christian educates and inspires us, his parents reach out to help others as well.  Helen talked about projects and individuals that she supports like the young woman who makes beautiful scarves, and a community (http://www.coventryreserve.org/) that is being created to support adults who have Down syndrome and their aging parents.  Even the little things like allowing people to “see how much I love him” have an impact on attitudes.  We all have a story to tell and an opportunity to change the assumptions made about Down syndrome.  What I learned from my new friend is that everyone deserves the chance to find that something that they love to do.  Don’t settle for less and don’t give up looking.

The stories here deserve to be shared and I thank IDSC for the opportunity to hear them!

To see Christian’s pottery visit his website:  http://christianroyalpottery.com/

He’s also on Facebook (http://christianroyalpottery.com/ ) and Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/source/christianroyalpottery.com/).

You can watch the documentary about his pottery at the Joni and Friends (http://www.joniandfriends.org/television/christian-royal-potters-hands/) website.